Brain of a maze compared to an open area.

Brain Briefing #1

The article Let’s
Eat: How Diet Influences the Brain is about the short-term and long-term
effects of food choices on the body and brain (Burrell, 2015). Diet impacts the
body and brain by increasing the risk for medical issues such as obesity,
cardiovascular disease, diabetes and “can increase the risk for mental
disorders and neurodegenerative diseases” (Burrell, 2015).

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This article examined studies about food preference that
examined monkeys which showed that junk food consumption increased when a
monkey’s mother ate a high-fat diet (compared to a low-fat diet) during
pregnancy. There is a relationship between prenatal diets and food preferences.
I did not realize there is a connection to dopamine; the monkeys whose mothers
ate a high-fat diet had fewer dopamine fibers and receptors. This suggests that
more junk food was needed to feel the same level of pleasure.

I find the relationship between food and different age
groups interesting. Teenagers consume more high fructose corn syrup than other
age groups which can increase levels of stress hormones in the brain. This
combination leaves teenagers vulnerable to mental conditions such as anxiety or
depression. A study using rats showed this correlation; fructose-fed rats gave
up swimming quicker and spent more time in a closed (safe) area of a maze
compared to an open area. Diet continues to impact the brain into old age and
does not stop after the teenage years. There is also a link between a person’s
body mass index (BMI) and the size of their hippocampus. Studies have shown
that overweight or obese older individuals have smaller hippocampi than
individuals that are a healthy weight. Mice studies showed that overweight or
obese mice have higher levels of inflammation in the brain which could lead to
these memory impairments.

This is important in therapy practice because
advocating for a healthy lifestyle at any age or stage of life is something
relevant for all health care professionals. Even if someone appears healthy, their
food choices could be causing unknown problems or dangerous inflammation. Educating
patients about how personal choices are impacting their body should be
incorporated whenever appropriate.

Brain Briefing #2

The article Questions
about Chronic Pain provides easy to understand explanations for general
questions about chronic pain and why this topic is relevant (2017). Pain
typically goes away after an injury heals; however, this is not always the
case. Some individuals have chronic pain or pain that persists after physical
damage is repaired. “One of the most challenging aspects of understanding and
treating chronic pain is that there is no physical, objective test of pain”
(2017). Patients self-report their pain and doctors commonly prescribe medications,
typically opioids, which may help some people; however, opioids are not a
long-term solution because they can pose serious risks.

This article provided some surprising statistics. I
find it interesting that chronic pain affects more individuals than cancer,
heart disease, and diabetes combined and costs hundreds of billions of dollars.
Chronic pain includes multiple conditions. This topic interests me because I
was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 19 which is a chronic condition
that is treatable and manageable but not curable.

This is important in therapy practice because chronic
pain needs to be considered when planning therapy interventions. “Because pain
is such an individual experience, treatment, too, needs to be customized to the
specific case” (2017). Individuals managing chronic pain from the same
condition may require different treatment interventions. Treatment plans should
incorporate non-drug care. Some examples mentioned in this article were
acupuncture, yoga, mindfulness, and biofeedback. Exercise may be beneficial for
pain levels in some cases. When I first started physical therapy for my
condition, even minimal activity caused further inflammation. Exercise was not
helpful because the medications were not properly suppressing my immune system
and controlling the inflammation. Every patient who attends physical or
occupational therapy should be educated and informed. This is a recurring theme
no matter what the reason for therapy is. “Patients should know that pain is
real, it’s a physiological process that takes place in the brain, and it’s not
their fault” (2017). This knowledge can help reduce anxiety and increase
participation in therapy.

Brain Briefing #3

The article Stroke
Prevention and Treatment is about healthy habits that can protect the heart
and brain (2012). In both heart attacks and strokes, a disruption of normal
blood flow cuts off oxygen and nutrients to the heart or brain. This could be
caused by a rupture of a blood vessel or clot. Heart cells and brain cells are
both vulnerable to damage. Heart disease and stroke are two of the most common
conditions in the world and can have detrimental effects. “Stroke disables more
Americans than any other condition” and “is a leading cause of disability
around the world and the fourth leading cause of death” (2012). Stroke
occurrence may increase if lifestyle precautions are not implemented.

I find stroke symptoms interesting and the dependence
on stroke location. I was not aware that any part of the brain can be affected.
Long-term symptoms may include: gait problems, cognitive or speech impairments,
and paralysis on one side of the body. Healthy lifestyle choices such as
physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and a balanced nutritious diet
can be used as preventative measures. Ongoing research aims to identify risk
and implement personalized preventative treatment, repair the damage caused by
strokes, and improve rehabilitation techniques post-stroke.

This is important in therapy practice because people
need to be aware of signs and symptoms and when to seek medical treatment. Prompt
treatment is ideal and may lessen the effects of stroke; however, permanent
damage may be inevitable. Prevention is the best method, and there are risk
factors that make individuals more susceptible. The article mentioned high
blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol as factors that
can often be controlled; this may or may not require medications. Regular
check-ups are crucial because awareness is necessary. If someone does not know
about a risk factor, there will not be any effort to control its affects until
it is too late.

Brain Briefing #4

The article “What is ‘Healthy’ Cognitive Aging?” describes
healthy cognitive aging as slowing down the inevitable cognitive decline as
people age (2013). The most common form of dementia in older adults is
Alzheimer’s disease. “Doctors consider all forms of dementia in the elderly to
be abnormally fast forms of decline, and worth treating” (2013). This was not
always the case. Neurologists used to consider dementia to be a normal part of
aging and not worth treating. Although cognitive decline is noticeable with advancing
age, these deficits are more coordinated with the rest of the body.

This article was very informative, and I found it
interesting to know that Alzheimer’s disease usually affects the brain for
10-20 years before an individual is diagnosed with dementia. “The number of
diagnosed Alzheimer’s dementia cases at any one time represent only a fraction
of the total number of Alzheimer’s-impaired brains” (2013). The brain may be undergoing gradual changes long before symptoms
are noticed and a diagnosis is established. The hippocampus is located in each
hemisphere and is responsible for memory functions; this is an active focus of
brain-aging research.

This is important in therapy practice because people
need to know that dementia is not a normal part of aging but slower age-related
cognitive decline is normal. The difference between abnormal and normal changes
with age should be outlined for patients. Elderly patients who suffer from
Alzheimer’s disease may have difficulty complying with exercise programs due to
memory impairments. It may be beneficial to present information in multiple
ways or communicate with family members or caregivers. It would be important to
gather information about the person’s living environment to make sure the
individual is able to meet daily needs such as ADLs in a safe way. This would
depend on the setting in which therapy is being provided and the progression of

Brain Briefing #5

The article Hacking
the Nervous System focuses specifically on rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which
is an “incurable autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own cells,
in this case the lining of the joints, producing chronic inflammation and bone
deformity” (2016). Disability is not
as common as it used to be due to medications that suppress the immune system
and “block the production of specific inflammatory proteins” (2016). A patient
named Vrind volunteered for a clinical trial that involved an electrical
implant connected to the vagus nerve. A pacemaker was put in her chest that
connected to the vagus nerve in her throat. Using a magnet, she would activate
the implant for only 30 seconds at a time. The goal was to provide an alternative
to harsh medications by reducing the inflammatory response in the spleen. The
vagus nerve would communicate with the spleen to switch off inflammation
everywhere and then tell the brain what is happening in the organs.

This entire article interested me because I have never
heard about a connection between the nervous system and immune system to treat
conditions such as RA. I am managing RA with the same medications that Vrind
was taking before starting this clinical trial. My opinions towards the
medications are similar to hers; I worry about long-term impacts on my organs. This
is amazing because the body’s natural balance is restored which means that
healthy immune function is not impaired or suppressed and can attack foreign

Although the results were still being prepared for
publication when this article was written, this information is important in therapy
practice because the results are promising. Around one-third of the participants
are in remission or essentially cured; they are no longer taking any
medications. The majority of the patients had reduced levels of inflammation as
shown through blood work. No one wanted the implant removed throughout the
course of the trial. Although more research is needed, the possibility for new
treatment options in the future is encouraging. This could minimize or
eliminate medications with harsh side effects and reduce time required to find a
treatment regimen that works for each individual. This clinical trial is
looking for a “cure” instead of suppressing the immune system.