8 Ways to Lower Your Dementia Risk

No one wants to suffer with dementia in old age — or for that matter, at any age. Are there steps one can take to minimize the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease?

Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback says, “The short answer is yes, researchers believe so. But more studies are needed to uncover what causes dementia in some people and not in others. It helps to understand the complicated nature of the development of dementia. In the majority of cases, dementia and Alzheimer’s, like other relatively common chronic conditions, develop as a result of complex interactions between heredity, physical health and the environment in which you live.”

Researchers have been trying to parse out which of the interactions including age, genetics (heredity), environment, lifestyle, and any and all coexisting medical conditions, might be the most important.

Researchers note that some risk factors, such as age and DNA, cannot be changed, but other risk factors most certainly can be minimized. This is especially true when you consider unhealthy habits such as smoking or heavy drinking, which can be curtailed or stopped. Another lifestyle change to reduce dementia risk is exercise. Lack of exercise spells trouble, both in the physical body (atrophy of muscles) and the mind (exercising the body also benefits the brain). Ongoing research in multiple areas may lead to new ways to detect those at highest risk.

Ongoing research in multiple areas may lead to new ways to detect those at highest risk. Meanwhile, here’s what we know that you can do to help mitigate your risk of developing dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Do not use anticholinergic drugs (Here is a LINK to the November 6, 2018 blog that addresses this issue.)
  • Don’t smoke (or if you do, quit as soon as possible).
  • Keep active and exercise regularly. Even walking counts.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, begin to make changes to your diet and exercise regimen to lose weight gradually and permanently.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink very moderately, if at all.
  • Keep cholesterol and blood pressure at a healthy level.
  • Keep regular social connections and interactions strong.
  • Learn something new every day. Travel. Try new foods. Take up a new hobby or activity. Intellectual activity is very important.

Although we are a long way from knowing everything about why some of get dementia and others do not, we are learning more and more all the time.

Take charge of your health! Make the changes noted above now to stay ahead of deteriorating brain health – and be as healthy as possible as you age. 

My experience with brain mapping at INDY Neurofeedback

What’s it feel like, exactly, to have your brain mapped at INDY Neurofeedback? I decided I wanted to find out for myself. (Full disclosure, as a blogger for INDY Neurofeedback, I wanted insight into what I was going to be writing about.)

A couple of weeks before my QEEG brain mapping appointment, INDY Neurofeedback sent me an email including several questionnaires. I was asked to complete a Profile, History and Metabolic sections, including questions pertaining to age, general health and wellbeing, smoker or non-smoker, drinker or abstainer, medications taken, that sort of thing.

I was also asked what in particular I wanted to understand about my brain — such as brain clarity, headaches, ruminating, memory, mood swings, poor concentration, anxiety, and/or organizational thinking. Had I been in any car accidents? Had any concussions? Taken any falls involving my head as an adult, or even as a child?

Since most of my prior trips to a health professional have not involved a lot of questions about brain wellbeing, it was interesting to – no pun intended – wrap my head around this. What, if anything, was I concerned about my brain health? What self-behaviors did I wonder about? What answers about how I think, react, emote, remember, and/or obsess about might I be looking for? Talk about being circumspect! I took my time with my answers (about 30-40 minutes), and sent back the questionnaires.

When I went to meet Leanne O’Neil over a week later, I wore comfortable clothes, and arrived very curious. Here’s what I learned right off the bat:

  • I needn’t have worried about fixing my hair for our meeting. Something akin to a bathing cap was comfortably placed over my head, rendering useless any styling techniques I might have employed.
  • Next, Leanne put a small dab of clear goo on several places on my head, and then attached several flexible wires to the cap. No wires stuck into me. Nothing itched. It was all very comfortable.
  • I sat in a softly lit room on a comfortable chair, facing forward. Leanne sat to my left, looking down at her computer monitor. She had placed a square sheet of paper with a black circle in the middle on a shelf a few feet away from me. She asked me to stare at the circle, blinking as little as possible, as she ascertained where various activity centers of my brain were.
  • She moved a few wires. I repeated the circle stare several times. I began to get better at not blinking.
  • Most frequently asked new client question: “Can you see what I’m thinking?” Answer: No. The scanner only reads brain region activity, nothing more.
  • “Can you feel or sense the scan?” Another no. I heard Leanne typing up the numbers she saw on her screen. I neither heard nor felt anything else.
  • “Is it like a lie detector? Will I be asked any compromising questions?” Not at all. The process is very quiet. Just a few instructions about relaxing and eye blinking as Leanne maps the areas of your brain.

The full mapping process took about an hour, plus another 30 minutes or so back in Leanne’s office to talk about the results. (Plus about 10 minutes between those time allotments to wipe a little goo from your scalp and fluff up your hair.)

Back in Leanne’s office, I sat across from her. She had about six pages of printed out results, including several easy to understand bar graphs and pictures showing the primary areas of my brain, and what each area was responsible for.

Leanne began the discussion with something like, “Here are your brain mapping results. Most likely, you already know most of what these results substantiate. There really shouldn’t be any surprises here. This just gives you concrete terms with which to understand what you are already aware of.”

I saw how each area of my brain was performing, taking clues from the graphs and print outs in front of me. Some areas were underperforming (dysregulated brainwave patterns) and others were more regulated. Since I am a question-asker, I asked quite a few. But someone else could have quietly listened, and taken it all in without a discussion, and that would have been fine, too.

I left Leanne’s office with my paperwork, knowing my results were confidential. INDY Neurofeedback follows all HIPAA regulations.

What might the next steps be? Well, the baseline scan numbers were right in my hands. If I wanted to strengthen or re-train any dysregulated areas of my brain, I could set up a series of sessions called biofeedback or neurofeedback. With the help of a brain scan and working with a trained professional, I would be able to help whatever areas of my brain I chose, such as strengthening memory, or re-directing pain signals, or helping regions affected by stroke or injury. The list is virtually endless, and it is guided by the patient herself. I would be able to see the results of any improvement I made with my next scan.

I have to say, I left fascinated. And intrigued to learn more.

If this sounds interesting to you for yourself or on behalf of a family member, it’s very easy to contact Leanne O’Neil with your questions or concerns. (P.S. She is real easy to talk to.)

New studies show Neurofeedback can reduce pain and increase quality of life for cancer patients

A new study from the renowned University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center researching neuropathic pain found that cancer patients using neurofeedback experienced less chronic pain and an increase in the quality of life. The 71-person study was designed by the department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine.

The research began by isolating the location of brain activity responsible for the physical and emotional aspects of the patients’ chronic pain. Pain centers were identified through the use of electroencephalogram (EEG) tracking (attaching small metal discs with thin wires on the scalp).

Many hospitals report that Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy (CIPN) is a very common side effect in cancer patients, affecting 71 to 96 percent of patients after a month of chemotherapy. Peripheral neuropathy is felt in patients as pain, burning, tingling and loss of feeling caused by damage to nerves that control the sensations and movements of arms and legs.

As EEG sensors track and records brain wave patterns, the sensors send signals to a computer to record the results. A computer screen allowed cancer patients to modify their own brain activity through the (EEG) biofeedback/neurofeedback.

MD Anderson study participants completed initial assessments that determined the brain activity related to their pain, the amount of pain perceived, and their quality of life. After neurofeedback therapy was completed the participants repeated the EEG and assessments to determine changes in pain perception, cancer related symptoms, and general quality of life. After neurofeedback therapy, 73 percent of patients reported improvement in pain, less numbness, and reduced how much pain interfered with daily activities.  

Through the use of neurofeedback, cancer patients were able to retrain their brains to form new connections and change existing (painful) nerve routes.

Since there is only one medication approved to treat CIPN, which has some negative side effects and is quite expensive, doctors at MD Anderson were very encouraged to see significant improvements in multiple patients’ quality of life after utilizing neurofeedback therapy  –especially since there were no side effects.

“Even better,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, “neurofeedback is customized to the individual and is relatively inexpensive. It not only works for those in pain, it also works for those seeking to retrain their brains to promote better health habits. Neurofeedback is a wonderful non-invasive, non-addictive tool to address all kinds of pain, discomfort and suffering.”

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.