Screen Time and Your Child’s Brain

The medical community has known for the past 30 years that spending large amounts of time in front of a TV or computer screen had a negative effect on a child’s developing brain – but specifically what parts of brain development were affected and for how long, have not been well researched or understood.

Thanks to new longer-term research studies, we now have more comprehensive, useable data. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported in JAMA Pediatrics that an increase in screen viewing time is linked to poorer progress on key young childhood developmental measures over time, including communication and language skills, memory, attention span, problem solving, and social skills.

This pronouncement is the result of a far-reaching psychological study from the University of Calgary in Canada, where 2,441 mothers and children aged two to five were studied over the course of three years. Initial baseline data were collected at the start of the study, when the children were two years old, then again when they were three and five.

By following the children over many years, the University of Calgary study learned more about how screen time and early child brain development intersect. Mothers reported on how much time their children spent in front of a television or computer screen on a typical day. They also reported on their child’s developmental measures by answering questions about their child’s behavior, communication skills, and social interactions. The study found that on average, the young children in the study were spending about 2-3 hours per day in front of a screen. (It’s worth noting that The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that young children spend no more than one hour a day watching quality educational programming.)

Children who spent more time using TV or computers did indeed show poorer performance on developmental measures. (Interestingly, the study did not find evidence that the opposite was occurring. In other words, children with developmental issues were not more likely to spend time in front of a screen.)

These measurable links remained strong even after researchers accounted for other factors that can influence development, such as parents’ education, children’s physical activity levels, and whether parents read to their children regularly.

“The study results show that there is a lasting influence of screen time, especially when children are two to five years old, when their brains are undergoing a period of tremendous development,” according to the JAMA Pediatrics article.

“It also strongly supports expert guidelines that recommend limiting screen time for young children,” notes Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “When the brain is rapidly developing new connections, it learns from every kind of experience it receives. So when watching a screen, the child is missing out on the opportunity for interacting with others and the surrounding environment.”

It is important to note, however, that not all screen time is detrimental to brain development. Families can develop healthy media habits by watching with their children, pointing out and discussing interesting ideas to contribute to language, skills and learning, making the time beneficial.

Understanding resiliency and why we want to achieve it

Why is it that some people react extremely negatively in the face of stress and adversity — sometimes even getting physically ill — while others seem able to shake it off and carry on? Since chronic stress can contribute to physical ailments such as heart disease and stroke, it’s important for us to know – is resistance to stress, a/k/a resiliency, something that can be acquired through training?

In a recent study, psychologists at Northwestern University used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the brains of 218 young people living in violent neighborhoods in Chicago. The study found that the youths who had higher levels of functional connectivity in the central area of their brains (in other words, better resiliency) had better cardiac and metabolic health than their peers who had lower levels of connectivity (reference this study here).

What explains all this?

One possible reason, says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, is that greater activity in the brain’s central network increases self-control. Self-control, in turn, can reduce the number of unhealthy behaviors people often use to cope with stress, such as eating junk food or smoking.

In other words, we can increase healthy behaviors with simple behavioral interventions.  In fact, one good example is mindfulness training through neurofeedback.

How might that work?  When we get help practicing:

  • attention control
  • emotion regulation
  • increased self-awareness,

we open up the potential to increase connectivity within the brain’s “central network”, leading to behavioral change. It does seem that our resilience is related to our brain connectivity, O’Neil concludes.

Someday we might be able to protect young people exposed to violence and adversity by supplementing their brains with neuroprotective growth factors. Meanwhile, O’Neil explains, we know enough to help less resilient brains through exercise, mindfulness training and other support systems, especially neurofeedback.

There will always be stress and adversity in our lives, it seems.  But we believe that resiliency is something that can be acquired through training.

Interested in finding out if neurofeedback can help you re-train your brain toward a specific behavioral goal? Call 317 888 8500.

You might be surprised how little wine it takes to damage your brain

 

At INDY Neurofeedback, we hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially this time of year, but – contrary to what you may have heard, even one glass of wine a night is not a good thing – at least as far as your brain is concerned.

Many adults drink a glass of red wine a night with the understanding that it is good for the heart. And yes, studies have been telling us that moderate wine consumption may be better for your health than heavy drinking or abstaining from alcohol completely. But what does your brain have to say about it?

It turns out that even moderate alcohol intake (defined by researchers as seven to fourteen glasses of alcohol per week) may damage the brain over time. To reach this conclusion, researchers in the UK followed 550 people over 30 years, tracking:

  • weekly alcohol intake
  • cognitive, or thinking abilities, periodically
  • MRI brain scans at the end of the study

The results? A bit frightening, frankly. The more people drank, the more atrophy, or shrinking, was found in their brain’s hippocampal region. Since the hippocampus is an area involved in memory, this was significant. Even moderate drinkers were three times more likely to have hippocampus atrophy than people who abstained.

What about light drinkers? Those who drank less than seven ounces per week (about three-and-a-half glasses of wine,) didn’t have significant brain changes. But, importantly — and contrary to what we thought we knew — they didn’t experience any health benefits.

The most severe damage, not surprisingly, was found among heavy drinkers, or those who had over 30 ounces (more than about 15 glasses of wine) per week.

How to put this in perspective? Previous studies linking health benefits to moderate drinking may not have provided a complete picture. It is difficult to sort out – was it the alcohol is providing those benefits or were the people who drank only moderately simply healthier?

But, with researchers having tracked so very many people, over the course of so many years, revealing at least some evidence of physical and cognitive changes, at INDY Neurofeedback, we’re recommending that these study results should be taken (ahem) – soberly.

What does this mean for you? If you drink one drink per day during the week, and two drinks a day on the weekend, you have a higher risk of hippocampal atrophy, according to this study.

These findings contradict popular knowledge, previous studies, and the national recommendations on safe alcohol consumption. The study’s authors conclude that it “calls into question the current US guidelines.”

The bottom line: If you’re going to drink, limit yourself to one serving daily or less. Your brain will benefit from this discipline.

Just one season of football adversely affects a child’s brain development

Football and its relationship to brain health is still very much in the news. In fact, a new study found youth and high school football players who were hit in the head frequently showed signs of damage to their brain development after just one season of playing the sport!

“Football,” said Leanne O’Neil, “is absolutely dangerous to the brain – more so if you are a growing child. We see many football-related injuries here at INDY Neurofeedfack. It’s very troubling.”

In the new study presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s (RSNA) annual meeting, researchers observed 60 youth and high school football players over a single football season. None had prior concussions or histories of developmental, neurological or psychiatric problems.

Twenty-four players were determined to be high-impact players while 36 were placed in a low-impact group (based on each player’s risk of cumulative head impact exposure) according to the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS), which helps collect data through sensors on the players’ helmets. Most impacts to the head occurred during practice, rather than at actual football games.

Those who experienced a high number of head impacts showed changes in brain pruning, a decrease in gray matter, which controls actions like motor, sensory movements and speech.

“A noticeable disruption in normal pruning means weaker connections between different parts of the brain,” says Leanne O’Neil. “This study found a significant decrease in gray matter pruning in the frontal default mode network of the brain. That’s the area involved in higher cognitive functions, such as planning and controlling social behaviors.”

In related research, the American Medical Association found that 177 former football players, ranging from high school to the NFL, showed some degree of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to frequent head trauma.

Another study by Scientific American looked at the long-term risks of playing football. The study found more than 40 percent of former NFL players showed signs of traumatic brain injury.

Still another study, reported by TIME magazine, predicted that children who played tackle football before the age of 12 and continued to play in high school would have trouble managing behavior later in life.

Schools, institutions, parents, and coaches are taking notice, and some amendments to football practice, such as reducing the number of contact drills and the National Football League’s recommendation of the elimination of the “running start,” could help decrease the chances of injury. That said, “No child should be at risk of getting hit in the head at full speed,” says O’Neil. “It’s simply too dangerous.”

Currently, the National Institute of Health (NIH) is in the process of requesting more funding to follow up with these players longitudinally, to see if there are any longterm effects.

Chris Nowinski, Ph.D and the CEO and co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, went on record to caution parents not to allow their children to play tackle football before high school. “The risks to brain development are simply not worth the perceived benefits,” Nowinski said.

The Brain, Alzheimer’s and Music

When you’re listening intently to a piece of music, a unique part of your brain responds with something called the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). This response has been equated to feeling like a tingling in your brain, or a type of natural high.

“It turns out that ASMR is pretty special,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback. “The part of our brains that is responsible for ASMR also assesses and catalogs music, forms emotional responses to it, and – surprisingly — appears to be a natural defense against Alzheimer’s and dementia.”

Caretakers of those with Alzheimer’s and dementia have frequently reported that music seems to lift people out of the confusion and fog of the disease and bring them back (albeit temporarily) to normality. This phenomenon has been observed numerous times but is only recently being studied.

How does Alzheimer’s disease affect the brain? We asked Leanne O’Neil. As Alzheimer’s progresses, brain tissue begins to harden, forming an insoluble plaque called Amyloid between brain neurons. As the disease continues, more and more brain tissue hardens and shrinks. This is why memories, faces, and even a basic sense of self can be lost or forgotten.”

However, according to The Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease, the part of your brain responsible for ASMR is not damaged by Alzheimer’s.

Jeff Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor in Radiology at the University of Utah Health and contributing author on the study, says these physical results surprised him. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia attacks the entire brain, little by little, but not this specific area. More research is needed to find out why. In the meantime, his information is already being used by those who care for dementia patients.

“No one says playing music will be a cure for Alzheimer’s disease,” cautions Dr. Anderson, “but it might make the symptoms more manageable, decrease the cost of care and improve a patient’s quality of life.”

Music may also be beneficial to mood and sleep patterns for those with Alzheimer’s. A study published in the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine was conducted with male residents with Alzheimer’s at a nursing home. The men participated in music therapy five times a week for four weeks. Following the four weeks, their melatonin levels (the hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles) were tested and had significantly increased—and remained elevated even six weeks after the music therapy was over.

Therapists also noted that the men demonstrated an improved ability to learn new songs and lyrics, increased their social interaction, and appeared to be more relaxed and calm.

In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, music is often used as a way to connect with family members and evoke a response – especially when a patient has stopped communicating. Familiar music may be able to calm a restless Alzheimer’s patient in the end stages of life. Some people with severe Alzheimer’s will mouth the words of a familiar song upon hearing it, and visibly relax and rest with the music. Our daughter witnessed this while playing the piano at a care center.

“The brain is an amazingly complicated organ and full of surprises, remarks O’Neil. “I am definitely in the right field of work, as I find myself endlessly fascinated by all the new brain research and technology available.” 

The incredibly fascinating Heart Math program at INDY Neurofeedback

Here at INDY Neurofeedback, all clients benefit from Heart Math emWave Pro heart rate variability training. Heart Math is an internationally recognized program that has been researched for decades and successfully benefited tens of thousands of people in over 85 countries.

What the Heart Math system does is collect the rhythms of your body’s pulse and send them through specialized software that translates your heart rhythms into graphics displayed on our computer monitor. These “heart brain” displays allow you to watch in real time how thoughts and emotions affect your heart rhythms.

What Heart Math can show you is amazing. Because your heart and your brain have a continuous two-way dialogue, each influences the other’s functioning. For instance, the signals your heart sends to your brain can influence your perception, emotional processing and higher cognitive functions.

Benefits of Heart Math:

Studies conducted with over 11,500 people have shown improvements in mental and emotional well-being in just six to nine weeks using Heart Math training and technology including:

  • 24% increase in the ability to focus
  • 30% improvement in sleep
  • 38% elevation of overall calmness
  • 46% reduction in anxiety
  • 48% drop in fatigue
  • 56% lowering of depression symptoms

Here is a short video about that Heart Math heart-brain connection to help illustrate this fascinating program.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we use Heart Math as an important adjunct therapy to our neurofeedback therapy. With proper training in our clinic, clients using Heart Math can learn to:

  • Be less reactive, making better decisions under pressure.
  • Increase mental clarity and memory.
  • Re-balance mind, body and emotions, reducing stress.
  • Build resilience through improved health, stamina and wellbeing.
  • Avoid burnout in chaotic and changing environments.
  • Maximize performance, creativity and/or innovation.

Heart Math is just one of the biofeedback techniques that we utilize at INDY Neuofeedback. It is a client favorite as the benefit of this technique is usually noticed after a few sessions.

If you have a question about INDY Neurofeedback offerings such as Heart Math, give us a call or leave us a message. We are happy to help!

What constant distraction does to your brain

How often do you check your phone?

Recent surveys suggest that not only is this the first thing most of us do upon waking, but that we go on to check our phones every eight to 12 minutes throughout the day.

Assuming each distraction takes about five minutes, followed by another five minutes to get back on task, in the space of an eight-hour work day, we interrupt our brains from what we are doing for two hours of those eight. That’s a lot of distraction.

Researchers and mental health professionals are warning us that these persistent distractions have a downside; they have seriously eroded our ability to concentrate, and that’s a big problem.

A 2005 study by London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect on individual productivity. And things have not improved in the 13 years since that study.

For instance:

  • Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.
  • Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ.
  • For every distraction (phone checking), it can take the brain three to five minutes to get back on track. That’s a lot of time lost from work.
  • Frequent distractions create a physiological hyper-alert state that activates adrenaline and cortisol production, which is a stress indicator.

According to psychiatrist Edward Bullmore, author of The Inflamed Mind, asking our brains to switch frequently and rapidly between different activities is harmful to our overall health.

“In the short term,” Bullmore says, “we adapt well to these demands. But in the long term, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol create a physiological hyper-alert state that is always scanning for stimuli, provoking a sense of addiction that is temporarily assuaged by checking in.”

Our brains use adrenaline and cortisol constructively to support us through bursts of intense activity, but according to Bullmore, this backfires when it is over-used. Cortisol can knock out the calming, feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, adversely affecting our sleep and heart rates and making us feel stressed and jittery.

What to do?

According to Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, you can and should break this cycle of constant interruption. “Begin with awareness about what specifically you may be doing to sabotage personal concentration, and then implement steps towards changing your behavior. This means deliberately reducing distractions and being more self-disciplined about your use of social media.”

O’Neil encourages extending brain focus and concentration by finding things to do that engage you for a specified period of time with no distractions. “With practice,” she says, “this becomes easier to accomplish. You can also extend your focus when you want to check in with your phone by adding five more minutes to anything you are engaged in. Anyone can do something for five additional minutes, plus you are re-training your brain to stay on task.”

Brain re-training is what we do at INDY Neurofeedback. The goal of neurofeedback is to transform unhealthy dysregulated brainwave imbalances into normal, healthy, organized patterns. If you are interested in finding out more about how to improve impulsivity, hyper-activity, or poor concentration skills, give us a call.

The surprising brain-boosting power of gratitude

We’ve all heard about the power of gratitude and positive thinking. So what is this concept all about and more importantly, how does it affect your mood, your brain and your thinking?

The philosophy of positively visualizing the things you want in life and downplaying experiences and expectations that are negative is a concept that has been written about for at least 3,000 years. Great authors of all times have written about how our thoughts and how we choose to look at things condition the reality that we experience.

Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher, in the first century said that “The thing that upsets people is not so much what happens, but what they think about what happens”.

Today’s researchers are finding out how the concept actually works.

An article about brain imaging research in Psychology Today reports that research subjects who expressed gratitude on a regular basis had high levels of activity in the hypothalamus region of their brains and had higher concentrations of dopamine.

Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback says, “Because the hypothalamus controls a vast number of vital bodily functions such as eating, drinking and sleeping, this area of your brain has a significant influence on your metabolism and stress levels. Feelings of gratitude also directly activate brain regions associated with the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter called dopamine.”

Dopamine floods the brain with positive emotions, which is why it is generally considered to be the brain’s reward neurotransmitter. Importantly, dopamine is also responsible for initiating action. In essence, increases in dopamine encourage your brain to repeat what you just did, in order to get that wonderful feeling again.

According to Psychology Today, “Gratitude has a powerful impact on your life because it engages your brain in a virtuous cycle. Your brain only has so much power to focus its attention. It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli. It is like a small child: easily distracted. Your brain looks for things that prove what it already believes to be true and dopamine reinforces that. So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.”

Leanne O’Neil has seen the power of gratitude in the brain time and time again in her work with INDY Neurofeedback clients. “Positive thinking brain activity can be tracked, showing that improvements in gratitude can have wide-ranging effects, from increases in exercise and improved sleep, to decreases in depression and aches and pains.”

Here are 3 simple ways you can use the power of gratitude to help transform your life, health and physical well-being:

  • Health and your happiness. Positive thinking has proven health benefits including minimizing stress, curbing depression, reducing both pain and the risk of heart disease.
  • A good attitude improves coping skills. Sometimes simply feeling gratitude about being alive in this vast world can help put problems into perspective and provide better coping skills – especially if you have physical pain. Use gratitude to provide perspective on what’s important and what you truly value.
  • Relationships thrive on gratitude. Gratitude reinforces bonds and provides proof of support for any difficult times in the future.

Positive focus can effect change to your health with a shift in perspective. INDY Neurofeedback can help you train your brain to actively respond to gratitude through proven non-medical biofeedback techniques. This not only works for you and your health but also helps those around you.

Gratitude is contagious!

How to help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease

Did you know that Alzheimer’s disease is among the fastest-growing epidemics in the world?

Over five and a half million Americans are living with the neurodegenerative disease today. According to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org), medical researchers predict that by 2050, 14 million people in the U.S. will require full-time care for Alzheimer’s disease. That number is equal to the populations of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

While no one has figured out for certain what causes Alzheimer’s disease, we do know that both genetic and lifestyle factors play a role. There is good news in that knowledge, because while we can’t yet change our genes, we can take proactive steps to alter lifestyle choices and minimize our risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University Medical Center have been researching how to optimize a healthy aging brain to protect it from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here is what they suggest you can do to protect your brain – the most active organ in your body — from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia:

  • Setting personal goals. Not only does setting personal goals and working steadily to achieve them strengthen neuron connections in the brain, it also decreases chronic worry that can pump the body full of cortisol and adrenaline. Purpose-driven stress can actually improve health by reducing inflammation.
  • Keep your brain active and learning. Solving puzzles and reading books are great ways to give your brain a workout, building and strengthening neuron connections.
  • Get more sleep. The brain consumes more than 25 percent of the body’s energy. A recent study found that the sleep-brain connection is so strong that people who suffer from sleep apnea have a 70 percent higher risk of contracting Alzheimer’s than those who breathe normally. Even one night of poor sleep can significantly increase disease-promoting inflammation in the body.
  • Exercise (especially the legs)! Muscle mass in the legs is associated with a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes memories. The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program recommends strenuous leg exercise (such as power walking) for 20 to 30 minutes a day, four to five days a week.
  • Eat a balanced diet, especially one that reduces inflammation. Eat as few processed foods as possible. Instead choose natural, whole, fiber-rich foods such as greens, berries, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These are the keys to building new nerve cells and neurons in your brain.
  • And of course, as discussed HERE, avoid anticholinergic drugs.

Aging does not necessarily mean succumbing to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Challenge your old ideas about aging and the brain by taking charge of your brain health — right now!

Traumatic Brain Injuries – by the numbers

Because of the way the brain is housed in the cranium, explains Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, an impact from almost any direction can cause damage. Although the brain is incredibly resilient, is it also quite susceptible to injury.

Even relatively minor brain trauma can cause lasting damage, often manifesting in headaches, slurred speech, depression and/or anxiety, fatigue, dizziness, mood changes, or irritability. Sometimes after a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) symptoms may be harder to pinpoint and diagnose, and may include reduced concentration, difficulty with memory retrieval, and poor organization and planning.

Here are some fairly startling TBI statistics in the U.S., gathered and published by WebMD:

  • 47% of brain injuries are attributed to falls, the leading cause of TBI.
  • 8 million Traumatic Brain Injuries were recorded in 2013, according to the most recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) data.
  • 153 deaths per day occur from injuries that include a brain injury.
  • 53,000 deaths are attributed to TBIs annually (CDC).
  • $400,000 is the average lifetime cost (per case) for a severe brain injury.
  • An estimated 3.2 to 5.3 million Americans are living with a TBI-related disability.
  • 47% increase in ER visits from TBIs from 2007 to 2013.
  • 70% of all sports and recreation-related brain injuries are reported in people ages 19 and younger.
  • 5% of high school athletes have had a concussion.
  • 5% of all high school athletes have reported more than one concussion.
  • 26,212 non-fatal bicycling-related brain injuries are reported annually.
  • 99% of NFL players in an autopsy brain donation program were diagnosed with brain damage after death.

Unfortunately, Traumatic Brain Injuries are on the rise across the U.S. And frequently, these injuries can be difficult to detect.

That is why INDY Neurofeedback was established; to provide a non-medical way to help those suffering with brain injuries re-gain lost brain function. If you suspect your (or a family member’s) symptoms may be the result of a Traumatic Brain Injury, we are here to help.

 

From Facts and Stats on Trending Health Topics, Matt McMillen, WebMD.com, September 2018.  https://www.webmd.com/brain/ss/slideshow-concussions-brain-injuries