Young Childrens’ Brains Thrive on Books

At INDY Neurofeedback, we know that MRI scans can tell us quite a bit about brains with injuries. Brain scans can tell us quite a bit about healthy brains, too.

Recently, therapists and researchers at Cambridge University decided to scan the brains of healthy young children while they were reading (or being read to), while listening to radio, and then a third time while they were looking at media (television, animation and cell phone screens).

The brain scans showed a remarkable difference in brain function between the two sessions.

When young children watched any kind of media, their growing brains registered what they were watching but did not show a lot of neural connection activity. In other words, the language and learning centers of the children’s brains were not lighting up.

Researchers believe the consumption of these materials is too easy for the young brain. The connections of action, spoken word and the resolution of the material was already laid out for them. No creativity or problem solving was required, therefore little learning.

Listening to pure audio content such as a child-friendly podcast or radio program were also a part of this research. Audio-only formats seemed to be too cryptic to coax a child’s visual cortex into establishing robust neural connections. It might be that audio programs are simply too difficult for a young developing brain to process.

Interestingly, looking at picture books was right on target — neither too easy nor too difficult for young children to absorb, cause neural connectivity – and glean understanding (learning).

As Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback puts it, “A typical children’s picture book contains a mixture of verbal and visual cues in an illustrated story format. Being read to results in the healthiest brain development –we can actually see the brain reacting positively. The tactile experience of a physical book is also critical for the brain to store memories. The child’s brain just lights right up.”

So if media is too easy for positive brain development and pure audio is too hard to process, are all children’s books “just right” for brain development?

Leanne O’Neil weighs in:  “Of course, every child is different. So I would say that any book a child loves is a good book. In fact, just being asked to read a book over and over again is a sign that your child has found something her developing brain is drawn to. Quality children’s literature is a great way to introduce all kinds of values and ideas to children, the more creatively and inspirationally, the better.”

To summarize, a little screen time is not a bad thing. But too much screen time is. Keep books front and center to encourage more brain connectivity and more language development. Great books transcend all ages!

Adopt These 10 Habits for Better Brain Health

Living a healthy lifestyle is key to preventing chronic illness and conditions like diabetes and heart disease. And now, new research has found that living a brain-healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive decline.

Here’s what you can do now to reduce your risk for brain-degenerative diseases:

  1. Turn down your headphones. With ear buds at full volume, you can permanently damage your hearing in just 30 minutes. Your volume should be no louder than 60% of your device’s maximum. Try not to listen for more than a couple of hours at a time.
  1. Get natural sunlight every day. Open the blinds. Get out of your office and head outside. Natural sunlight provides natural vitamin D, a needed vitamin for your brain and body health.
  1. Move more! A 40-year Swedish study separated midlife women exercisers into low, moderate and high fitness levels and found that women at the lowest fitness level were 45% less likely to develop dementia, while women in the top fitness level were 88% less likely. Exercise reduces chronic inflammation and increases the release of a protein that’s good for brain cells. Plus, it improves your overall health, reducing cardiovascular dysfunction, your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are all bad for your brain.
  1. Watch what you eat. Overeating and eating food high in salt, sugar and highly processed foods is very bad for your brain, not to mention your overall body health. A healthy diet produces more brain tissue volume, more gray matter, a larger hippocampus (which controls memory) and lessens the risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in 2018 by researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
  2. Keep mentally fit. Lifelong learning is fundamental to improved brain health, higher levels of cognitive activity and staving off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. So, read, take an online course, learn a new language or a new musical instrument. Learning builds cognitive reserves — the capacity of your brain to function optimally – at any age.
  3. Be socially active. Scientists now know that people with few social contacts and who feel lonely or isolated have a 26% greater chance of dementia or mild cognitive decline. The connection between loneliness and dementia is still unclear, but it may have to do with depression or lack of stimulation. Talk, visit and interact with others. Your brain depends on it.
  4. Make a good night’s sleep a priority. Experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep per night. It’s vital to brain and physical health.
  5. Find a way to reduce stress. High levels of stress are linked to memory problems and smaller brain volume. Practice whatever works best for you – breathing exercises, taking a walk, playing with a pet, listening to music, knitting, reading a novel, tinkering in the garage, or anything else you find relaxing.
  6. Stop smoking. Smoking can shrink your brain, make your memory worse, and makes you twice as likely to get dementia, including Alzheimer’s. It also causes heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and high blood pressure.
  7. Get healthier. Start now. Illnesses most related to brain health include Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. People with diabetes have a twice the risk of developing vascular dementia, and a 73% increase risk of any dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Address depression and mental health, too.

“Taking care of your overall physical and mental health adds up to a healthier you,” says Leanne O’Neil. “Each component plays a critical role in living a brain-healthy lifestyle. Make sure you see your doctor regularly, get annual screenings and manage any chronic illnesses you have.”