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Understanding Your Kids’ and Teens’ Brains

Can’t figure out why Junior “just can’t seem to do his chores without being told what to do at least half a dozen times”?

Does Junior Miss’s concept of time seem to revolve exclusively around “later,” unless something is important to her and she wants it “right now”?

Do you know kids who could only understand the concept of “personal responsibility” if it were made into a movie or rap song or they were forced to Google it?

LiveScience.com offers some great (and quick) new insights into the Whys of these unfathomable parental struggles.

Every parent knows that children seem to act before thinking. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court in an historic decision on March 1, 2005 abolished the death penalty for crimes committed by adolescents under the age of eighteen, thereby distinguishing between adolescence and adulthood. In Roper v. Simmons, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that juveniles under eighteen have an “underdeveloped sense of responsibility… resulting[ing] in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions…are more susceptible to negative influences and peer pressure…their character is not as well formed as that of an adult.”

The May 18, 2009 edition of the Web site Live Science.com provides insights into the child’s developing brain and how it develops neural connections as we age. The article also provides a very good (and brief) film to illustrate this process of neural growth.

For more information see:

http://www.livescience.com/health/090518-child-brain.html

New evidence appears to indicate that adolescents’ brain waves reduce significantly while they sleep, reflecting a trimming-down or pruning of neurons inside teenager’s brains. And, while the brain decides which connections are important to keep and which are not, this process may have a number of significant implications for the growing adolescent and future adult.

For more information see:

http://www.livescience.com/health/090323-adolescent-brain.html

And before you get too frustrated about the fact that your 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17 year old may be a great athlete or just a really nice kid but isn’t very good at self-organized thinking, there are scientific explanations that every parent ought to keep in mind.

For more information see:

http://www.livescience.com/health/050517_teen_thought.html

Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy. D.
7740 Southwest 52 Avenue
Miami, Florida 33143
(305) 271-0973

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Alzheimer’s Disease, Vascular Disease, and Vitamin D deficiency

       Researchers need to examine more closely the relationship between Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia and Vitamin D deficiency, according to William b. Grant, Ph.D. of the the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC).

            Earlier research reports have found low serum levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D] associated with increased risks for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, depression, dental caries, osteoporosis, and periodontal disease – considered risk factors for dementia or found to have preceded incidence of dementia. In addition, studies have reported that those with higher serum 25 ((OH)D levels had greatly reduced risk of incidence or death from cardiovascular diseases. And laboratory evidence for Vitamin D in neuroprotection and reducing inflammation  and biological evidence to suggest and important role of vitamin D in brain development and function.

            To learn more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090526140747.htm

Posted By Francis J. (Skip) Flynn, Psy.D.

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Dimentia and Alzheimers Disease Risk Factor Articles

While dementia and Alzheimer’s disease retain their ability to strike fear into patients and their families, researchers are developing more efficient clues for predicting the onset of these brain disorders. And early detection remains key to delaying and controlling the progression of these life- and family-changing diagnoses.

Older people (average age of participants in the study was 72 years) who are thinner or are losing weight quickly are at a higher risk of developing dementia, especially if they started out overweight or obese, according to a report published in the May 19, 2009 print issue of Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology. In addition, those who lost weight at a faster rate over the eight year study were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia than those who lost weight more slowly over time.

The study reflects the idea that in middle age, obesity may be a risk factor for dementia, while in later life it may be one of the first changes that occurs before dementia actually affects a person’s memory.

 

To learn more: http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/05/090518161110.htm

 

In a 2008 report in the March 26, 2008 online issue of Neurology, researcher Rachel A. Whitmer, Ph.D. from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, reported that people with larger stomachs in their 40s are more likely to have dementia when they reach their 70s. In her study of 6,583 people age 40 to 45 in Northern California who had their abdominal fat measured, an average of 36 years later, those who were overweight and had a large belly were 2.3 times more likely to develop dementia than people with a normal weight and belly size.

 

To learn more: http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2008/03/080326161721.htm

 

(Dr. Flynn posted this because of my belly….)

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Great Article Reprinted from ScienceDaily(Apr.28, 2009)

Brain Music: Putting The Brain’s Soundtracks To Work

ScienceDaily (Apr. 28, 2009) — Every brain has a soundtrack. Its tempo and tone will vary, depending on mood, frame of mind, and other features of the brain itself. When that soundtrack is recorded and played back — to an emergency responder, or a firefighter — it may sharpen their reflexes during a crisis, and calm their nerves afterward.



Over the past decade, the influence of music on cognitive development, learning, and emotional well-being has emerged as a hot field of scientific study. To explore music’s potential relevance to emergency response, the Dept of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) has begun a study into a form of neurotraining called “Brain Music” that uses music created in advance from listeners’ own brain waves to help them deal with common ailments like insomnia, fatigue, and headaches stemming from stressful environments. The concept of Brain Music is to use the frequency, amplitude, and duration of musical sounds to move the brain from an anxious state to a more relaxed state.

“Strain comes with an emergency response job, so we are interested in finding ways to help these workers remain at the top of their game when working and get quality rest when they go off a shift,” said S&T Program Manager Robert Burns. “Our goal is to find new ways to help first responders perform at the highest level possible, without increasing tasks, training, or stress levels.”

If the brain “composes” the music, the first job of scientists is to take down the notes, and that is exactly what Human Bionics LLC of Purcellville, VA does. Each recording is converted into two unique musical compositions designed to trigger the body’s natural responses, for example, by improving productivity while at work, or helping adjust to constantly changing work hours.

The compositions are clinically shown to promote one of two mental states in each individual: relaxation – for reduced stress and improved sleep; and alertness – for improved concentration and decision-making. Each 2-6 minute track is a composition performed on a single instrument, usually a piano. The relaxation track may sound like a “melodic, subdued Chopin sonata,” while the alertness track may have “more of a Mozart sound,” says Burns. (It seems there’s a classical genius—or maybe two genii—in all of us.

Listen to an instrumental alert track at http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/multimedia/snapshots/st_brain_music_active.mp3.

After their brain waves are set to music, each person is given a specific listening schedule, personalized to their work environment and needs. If used properly, the music can boost productivity and energy levels, or trigger a body’s natural responses to stress.

The music created by Human Bionics LLC is being tested as part of the S&T Readiness Optimization Program (ROP), a wellness program that combines nutrition education and neurotraining to evaluate a cross population of first responders, including federal agents, police, and firefighters. A selected group of local area firefighters will be the first emergency responders taking part in the project.

The Brain Music component of the ROP is derived from patented technology developed at Moscow University to use brain waves as a feedback mechanism to correct physiological conditions.

In British philosopher John Locke’s terms, Brain Music brings new meaning to his famous phrase: “A sound mind in a sound body, is a short, but full description of a happy state in this World.”

And then there’s always Cervantes, who coined, “He who sings scares away his woes.”



Adapted from materials provided by US Department of Homeland Security – Science and Technology, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

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The Importance of Sleeping for Academic, Athletic Performance

importance of sleeping - sleep and academic performance, sleep and athletic performance(Note: This article was originally published elsewhere, but the content is obviously relevant to our discussions here at the Train Your Brain Blog. Thus, we are re-posting.)

Parents and coaches of students and athletes concerned about improving academic and athletic performance may be missing one of the most important factors, according to one of the co-founders of the Miami-based Brain Training Centers of Florida.

“Sleep may be the most over-looked component of academic and athletic success,” reports Francis J. Flynn, Psy. D., CAP, whose firm helps clients achieve brain balance and homeostasis. “Researchers are constantly pointing to the importance of sleep. The scientific evidence indicates that too many people, especially students, are suffering from various levels of sleep deprivation and their performance is suffering because of it.”

There’s no animal that doesn’t sleep. Even the dolphin – which some used to argue don’t sleep because they keep moving – seem to sleep with one eye closed and one half its brain showing the slow waves characteristic of deep sleep.

“At Brain Training Centers our programs of neuro-feedback allow clients to quickly improve the quality and quantity of their sleep and their moods and personal performance – academically, at work and in sports – quickly reflects the difference.”

In a study of six healthy members of the Stanford University men’s basketball team, athletes who got extra sleep were more likely to improve their performance in a game. The Stanford study, authored by Cheri Mah, found significant improvements in athletic performance, including faster sprint times and increased free throw percentages, when the student athletes were encouraged to obtain as much extra sleep as possible. The athletes also indicated an improvement in mood associated with increased sleep.

From researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, comes a report that sleep helps clear room in the brain for new learning. Synapses are the connecting points between brain cells; they’re the junctures where nerve cells communicate with each other. Scientists have long believed that the creation of new synapses is one of the most important ways the brain encodes or develops memories and learning.

Thanks to fruit flies, which mature very rapidly, have very short lives and have sleep similar to human sleep, scientists are able to track the creation of new synapses during learning experiences and show that sleep appears to allow synapses to strengthen or consolidate information learned during the day; during sleep these synapses associated with important information rest and stay health while synapses formed by inessential day-to-day experiences appear to drop off. It’s a complex process built around the action of specific proteins in the synapses. But the critical idea is that these synapses grow stronger while we are awake and learning and sleep refreshes the brain by bringing the synapses back to a lower level of strength. Sleep allows the brain to save energy, space and material and clear away useless or unnecessary “noise” from the previous day. As a result, the well-rested brain is ready to learn more the next morning.

It appears that even the most unimportant experiences of the day cause the formation of synapses. When we sleep, these unimportant synapses are discarded by the brain – making room for the next day’s new synapses.

Chiara Cirelli and Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health point out that sleep is strictly regulated by the brain, because sleep deprivation is followed by a rebound – we either sleep longer or spend more time in the deeper sleep characterized by large slow brain waves. They argue that sleep is critical to brain plasticity – the ability of the brain to continue to grow and change throughout our lives. Cirelli and Tononi believe that sleep allows the brain to regroup after a hard day of learning by giving the synapses, which increase in strength during the day, a chance to rest or damp down to baselines levels during sleep. Because the brain uses up to 80 percent of its energy to sustain synaptic activity, sleep is important in allowing the brain to renew itself.

At St. Lawrence University (Canton, N.Y.) associate professor of psychology Pamela Thacher studied 111 students and found that students who regularly pulled all-nighters had lower GPAs and, while procrastination is not associated with all-nighters, both practices – procrastination and all-nighters – were significantly correlated with lower GPAs.

At the University of North Texas, researcher Kendry Clay studied 824 undergraduates and found that “morning types” had higher GPAs than “evening types.” And, at the University of Minesota Boynton Health Service Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the director and chief health officer, reporting on the most comprehensive study of college students’ health in the nation, found a direct link between students’ health and their academic achievement. In the study of 9,931 students from 14 Minnesota colleges and universities, students who reported having fewer nights of adequate sleep had a mean GPA of 3.08 compared with a 3.27 mean GPA for students who did not report sleep deficiencies.

One solution for students who have a difficult time falling asleep: white noise. Central Michigan University psychology professor Carl Johnson and LeAnne Forquer, now a member of the psychology faculty at Delta State Univesity in Cleveland, Miss., found that the use of continuous white noise may help college students sleep better and was effective for students with self-reported sleep problems to decrease difficulty in falling asleep and night-wakings.

If you’re the parent or a relative of an otherwise healthy (not overweight or obese) teen who’s always tired, orthodontist and researcher Mark Hans, DDS, MSD of Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in Cleveland may have discovered the reason why he can never get enough sleep: Check the formation of his hyoid bone, which helps to support the tongue and serves as an attachment point for several muscles that help to elevate the larynx during swallowing and speech. Hans found that the same x-rays teens get before getting braces can help correctly identify 70 percent of teens with sleep apnea, a chronic condition that causes people to stop breathing during sleep – and often leaves them tired during the day.

Teens whose hyoid bones sit higher are not at risk for sleep apnea; the lower the bone, the greater the risk of the condition. Early and proper diagnosis can make early treatment – and the avoidance of many problems – possible. And, radiological evaluation is relatively inexpensive – about $100 – when compared to the $1000 or more it might cost for an evaluation in a sleep lab.

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Neuroplasticity Enables You to Improve Mental Health and Overcome Emotional Problems Through Reading

(Note: This article was originally posted elsewhere, but we are posting it here also to give you additional background on how the Brain Training Centers of Florida are helping patients improve their mental health, and their life.)

A Miami-based counselor has adapted a new approach to mental health: read, then read very carefully, then read some more and even more carefully, and, finally, put into practice what you’re reading.

“There’s now a great deal of very practical material available for men and women with a wide range of emotional problems,” observes Francis J. Flynn, Psy.D., CAP, director of the Brain Training Centers of Florida. “Most importantly, the latest scientific discoveries – especially in the field of neuroplasticity – are being put in terms laymen and women can understand and begin to implement,” said Flynn, who earned his Doctor of Psychology degree from Nova South Eastern University in 1986 and is a Florida Certified Addictions Professional (counselor).neuroplasticity - improve mental health, overcome emotional problems

“We’ve moved away from the idea that the adult brain is cast in stone and cannot change,” notes Flynn. “Developments in neuroplasticity – the idea that the brain can actually develop new and effective brain cells designed specifically to address newly emerging skills or new learning – is probably the most important development in the world of neuropsychology, and potentially in the world of counseling, since Dr. Freud and Erik Erikson began to introduce ideas of human emotional development.”

Flynn points to a number of works that he describes as range from “pedantic, everything- you-never-wanted-to-know-about specific subjects – sort of the Moby Dicks of the neurosciences” to “‘WOW! This is great!” new and relatively easy reading.”

At the top of Dr. Flynn’s “just plain practical” list is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Excise and the Brain by John J. Rately with Eric Hagerman. “Despite all of the scientific terms and his references to brain chemistry, he puts into relatively plain language just how effectively exercise can be used to help people experience significant improvements from depression, anxiety and a wide range of other problems.”

Sharon Begley’s Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How A New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary PotentialTo Transform Ourselves was born, of all places, in Dharamsala, India, the home-in-exile of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama periodically convenes multi-day seminars with some of the world’s top scientists. Begley, a science writer for the Wall Street Journal provides insight into and the history many of the 2004 presentations on neuroplasticity to the Nobel Prize winning Buddhist leader. Neuroplasticity refers to the brains ability to change its structures and functions by expanding nerve cell circuits that are used frequently and by shrinking or weakening those that are infrequently or rarely used. Neuroplasticity opens the possibility that the brain can be deliberately altered through the practice of specific tasks.

“Ultimately, neuroplasticity has tremendous potential for the future design of counseling and therapy techniques, the treatment of addictions, depression, anxiety, stress, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” notes Flynn. “It can certainly be argued that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and AA and other Twelve Step programs, when practiced regularly and with deliberate intention, take advantage of specific elements of plasticity – building new neural systems that, over time, become the brain’s preferred pathways, as opposed to the older, counterproductive pathways. As with exercise, it can become a case of use-it-or-lose-it in cognitively-emotionally healthy lifestyles.”

Fifty years ago, it took almost a decade for the totality of human knowledge to double. “Today, our total knowledge doubles just about every two years and the worlds of science and medicine, especially about the human brain, are leading the field,” said Flynn. “And this increasing store of knowledge can be a great source of encouragement and hope for all of us, especially if we are dealing with any kind of mental health issue.”

Flynn, who is a co-founder of the Brain Training Center of Florida, encourages his clients to spend time in any major bookstore. “Grab the most recently published books on the brain you can find; check out the author’s background to make sure that he or she is well educated; and, just read a few pages to make sure that the material is understandable to you,” he urges his clients. “Then head home and read, read, read.”

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Brain Training and Athletic Training: Get in ‘The Zone’

The Brain Training Centers of Florida is a sponsor for The International Wake Board Championships. The following article appeared in the program for the event:

More than two centuries after Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, declared “A strong body makes the mind strong,” a Miami counselor is telling sportsmen “A well-trained brain can make a well-trained athlete even better.”

“The field of Sports Psychology is barely a century old, but the truly effective training of the body and the brain to work as a unit is a whole new field,” reports Francis J. Flynn, Psy.D., co-founder and director of Brain Training Centers of Florida.

sports psychology - brain state conditioning - athletic training“Traditionally, the world’s best athletes – divers, swimmers, pitchers, basketball players, golfers, and others – had to work for years to be able to get ‘in the zone’ at the critical moment in competition. Today, high powered laptops and specialized computer programs allow athletes to strengthen the bond between brain and body in ways never dreamed of – even ten years ago.”

“Until recently we believed that by adolescence the brain was fully developed and unchanging. Today we know that the brain can change and develop – in a sense actually get stronger – all through life. With repetition of everything from sinking free throws, sticking dives and/or flip turns or perfectly hitting a ski jump, athletes of all ages can change specific areas of their brains,” said Flynn, who has counseled an Olympic silver medalist in platform diving and a world champion springboard diver. “It’s one of the most significant new principles of neuropsychology and athletic training. We call it ‘neuroplasticity,’ the idea that throughout our lives our brains can continue to change.”

Athletic excellence demands the carefully coordinated interaction between the brain and the body. Skilled athletes must, at one and the same time, quiet their brains to block out all distractions and use their brains to deliver specific instructions to the muscle groups involved in their sport to achieve precise movements. “From the perspective of the brain, the Olympics were exciting because of how marvelously athletes were able to achieve perfect brain-body coordination,” said Flynn.

The Brain Training Centers of Florida use the Brain State Conditioning (BSC) systems of Brain State Technologies. BSC is a personalized, computer-driven type of brain optimization computer program based on the brain’s ability to observe and direct itself into an ever more balanced and healthy state. Brain Training Centers’ clients can learn to quiet and focus their brains in order to accomplish specific sports-related tasks and, at the same time, achieve optimal levels of physical performance. In addition to athletes, BTC of Florida also works with individuals experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, sleep problems, and a wide range of other issues.

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