Is Music Good for Brain Health?

Happy senior woman with closed eyes wearing headphones and singing

In a word, yes. Listening to music, playing music, dancing to music… all turn the brain on, providing a full brain workout.
According to a new report from the AARP-founded Global Council on Brain Health, music stimulates multiple areas of the brain including those responsible for memory, movement and mood.

“Nothing activates the brain like music,” says Jonathan Burdette, a contributor to the AARP report and professor of neuroradiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Music has the capacity to get multiple parts of the brain working together. “All that brain synchronicity provides some serious health benefits.”
Researchers have found that music can:

Improve sleep
Sharpen memory
Reduce stress, and
Stimulate thinking skills

That’s because when we hear music, the sound waves are translated into nerve impulses that travel to several areas of the brain. These areas include those that release dopamine, which plays a role in pleasure. That’s why, when you hear music, — no matter what type — it makes you feel better.

A 2020 AARP survey of more than 3,100 adults found that a higher percentage of people who engage in music self-rate aspects of their quality of life and happiness as excellent or very good. They also report lower average levels of anxiety and depression.

Even better, “music facilitates social interactions — another advantage for the brain. So when adults sing and dance, or perform together, they experience a pronounced feeling of less loneliness and a better quality of life, compared with adults who don’t,” says Julene Johnson, a professor at the Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Along with improving mood, music encourages movement — another key component to brain health. Listening to music during a workout can be an enjoyable way to make exercise seem easier and enjoy the workout more. We are learning that music has brain healing powers music is now being used to help adults who suffer a stroke and lose their ability to speak. Even when they can’t speak, they can often still sing. Adults with Parkinson’s disease may struggle to walk, but music and dance can strengthen their muscle movement and help improve gait.

How can you use music to improve every day brain health? INDY Neurofeedback owner Ruth Just weighs in. “At our clinic, we play music at specific frequencies at our clinic that correlate with clients’ neurofeedback to enhance the benefit of their sessions.”

Here are 5 Ways to use music to sharpen your brain from AARP’s Global council on Brain Health:
Listen to music that comforts you or evokes positive memories
Try listening to unfamiliar songs and new types of music to stimulate your brain
Use relaxing background music to help you relax at the end of a hectic day
Try turning on upbeat background music when you need an energy or creativity boost
Be sure to have your hearing checked. Maintaining clear hearing is essential for maintaining cognitive function – and making listening to music more enjoyable.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we can help you maximize your brain function and improve the quality of your day-to-day life. How can we help you? Let’s talk.

Can Taking Supplements Help with Memory and Focus?

Pop up ads for memory-enhancements bombard us today. The claims these products make are pretty tough to ignore. Everything from “Dramatically sharpens focus” to “Improves memory and concentration.” So, how well do they really work, and are they worth the cost?

The answer is: It’s pretty unclear since the FDA does not require supplement manufacturers to prove that the supplements they make are effective, as long they do not make any claims about specific diseases. The efficacy also depends on how each supplement is produced. Quality is important.

So what makes sense to take to get brain-health benefit?

Here’s what the medical community says, (some of which may surprise you):

Omega-3s

The oil from Omega 3-rich-fish supports healthy brain cell structure for the human brain’s over 100 billion cells. Each cell has an outer membrane which is made up of fat (lipids). Fats account for over half of the overall mass of the brain. The typical human brain is 60% fat so we need to include fats in our diets if we want our brains to operate optimally.

Omega 3s not only help in the formation of healthy brain cell membranes, but they also contribute to the overall flexibility and ‘fluidity’ of those membranes. In addition, they help to regulate the flow of proteins and neurotransmitters which act as chemical messengers, and are directly associated with fluctuations in mood.  The Brain Health Education and Research Institute provides a wealth of information on this. To learn more, visit: brainhealtheducation.org.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin with alpha-tocopherol, which is the only form used by the human body. Its main role is to act as an antioxidant, scavenging loose electrons or “free radicals” that can damage cells including brain cells. Experts say most people should stick with food sources like nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils, which naturally contain vitamin E such as:

  • Wheat germ oil
  • Sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts, peanut butter
  • Beet greens, collard greens, spinach
  • Pumpkin
  • Red bell pepper
  • Asparagus
  • Mango
  • Avocado

Curcumin/Tumeric

Curcumin is the natural active compound found in curry powder. It has been hailed for its antioxidant powers. A small 40-person UCLA study found that people who took curcumin fared better on memory tests and had less buildup of abnormal proteins in their brains, but more studies are needed for conclusive proof.

B Vitamins

B vitamins include B6, B12, and B9 (folic acid). Each of these has a role in brain health, but unless you’re deficient or pregnant (folic acid helps prevent birth defects), a B-vitamin supplement is unlikely to help with memory or brain health. For most, the best way to benefit from vitamin B is to get them from natural food sources such as:

  • Whole grains (brown rice, barley, millet)
  • Meat (red meat, poultry, fish)
  • Eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese)
  • Legumes (beans, lentils)
  • ​Seeds and nuts (sunflower seeds, almonds)
  • Dark, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kai lan)
  • Fruits (citrus fruits, avocados, bananas)

Caffeine

Some coffee may be good for your brain, as long as it doesn’t worsen your sleep or make you jittery. Caffeine is a stimulant that helps perk you up and promote energy by blocking brain receptors for a chemical called adenosine.

L-theanine

L-theanine seems to have some potential for improving mental performance, especially when combined with caffeine, but again, it needs more comprehensive studies. A natural amino acid, it can be found in green tea.

Ginkgo Biloba

Although Ginkgo Biloba a staple in traditional Chinese medicine, modern research has found that ginkgo supplements probably won’t protect your memory or slow dementia.

Ginseng

Ginseng is another popular supplement traditional Chinese herb that has links to brain enhancement. However, an AMA (American Medical Academy) review of several trials concluded there’s “no convincing evidence” that ginseng will protect mental skills.

CDP-Choline

In Europe, CDP-choline is a prescribed drug with reasonable medical evidence that it can benefit memory in elderly people with memory problems. However CDP-choline has yet to be proven on whether it can prevent memory decline in healthy people.

The conclusion? More research is needed. Proceed with caution and with medical supervision.

Don’t blindly trust marketing claims. Research brands to determine which provide the purist forms of ingredients with the least amounts of fillers. Supplements can cause side effects, just as many medications do. There are risks in mixing vitamin and herbal supplements with prescription drugs. Be sure to periodically review all the drugs and supplements you’re taking (or considering) with your doctor or pharmacist, so they can help you determine what makes the best sense for you.

Here at INDY Neurofeedback, we know that research supports that our brains can benefit from the inclusion of Omegas and the inclusion of a wide variety of healthy foods in our diet. It is always our goal to work toward brain health that does not require the support of prescription medications.

Can COVID-19 Impact the Brain?

New information is emerging in COVID-19 hospital research showing that patient brains are negatively impacted in about 20% of all cases.

A growing portion of those affected by COVID experience temporary episodes of cognitive decline or decompensation. This appears to be especially true of those with severe disease symptoms, especially the elderly, who required intensive care hospitalization.

One example of cognitive decompensation is delirium, often experienced with lapses in awareness and mental fortitude. Independent of COVID cases, this is actually an extremely common symptom during or after any post-intensive care experience.

“Delirium is a state of confusion that commonly occurs when patients are in the ICU,” says Dr. Lauren Ferrante, a Yale Medicine pulmonologist and critical care doctor. “The patient may not be able to think clearly, may not understand what is happening around them, and may see or hear things that are not there.”

Brain Dysfunction and delirium is seen in roughly two out of three patients in ICU settings and closer to 70% for patients placed on ventilators.

The symptoms of delirium include but are not limited to:

  • Inability to think clearly
  • Trouble paying attention
  • Difficulty understanding what’s going on around them
  • Seeing, imagining or hearing things that are not there

There are many reasons why delirium may occur in the brain while being sedated on a ventilator including:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Oxygen deprivation in the brain during labored breathing
  • Severe infections, pain, or medical illnesses
  • Alcohol, sedatives, medications, or painkillers—or withdrawal from those substances

Although brain function disturbances have been reported in recovering COVID-19 patients, the brain dysfunctions seem primarily linked with the affectation of the disease on the body, rather than the disease itself, which primarily affects the lungs and heart.

Long hospital stays, rigorous treatments, and the psychological duress of being in prolonged hospitalized isolation are thought to play a more significant role in disorienting the brain’s senses than COVID-19. However, older age increases the risk of delirium, too, and seniors are experiencing COVID-19 at much higher rates than younger adults.

Maintaining brain function is indispensable to good health.  Neurologically based conditions including memory loss, gait, balance, and insomnia can be helped through neurofeedback. Call us  – INDY Neurofeedback  is here to help. It is never too late to address your brain’s health.

How Typical U.S. Diets Affect Brain Function and Appetite

American diets have been connected to a number of health issues from obesity to cardiovascular disease. But new joint research between the U.K., Australia and the U.S. has finally identified why our diets are so bad for us and why we’re putting on weight.

Researchers found that when otherwise healthy young adults followed a typical western (U.S.) diet for seven days, they tended to perform worse on memory tests and craved more junk food. That may be because the food we typically eat actually disrupts proper function of the hippocampus, a region in the brain important for memory retention and food regulation.

After a week on an American-style diet, snacks and chocolate become more desirable even when subjects were full,” according to a Macquarie University study director in Sydney, Australia. “Our diets make junk food harder to resist, leading us to eat more, which in turn generates more damage to the hippocampus and a vicious cycle of overeating.”

For the study, researchers split 110 lean and healthy students between the ages of 20-23 into two groups: one group ate their normal diet for a week, while the others were given a diet including processed snacks and sugary foods. After eating each meal, participants indicated how much they liked the food and whether they wished to eat more of it.

Interestingly, desiring more food and liking a particular type of food dramatically changed in participants following the western-style diet. Researchers found that the more appealing food samples were to test subjects, the worse subjects did on brain tests such as memory retention. These new study findings strongly resemble previous studies, which exposed a link between hippocampal function and junk food.

Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, finds these connections troubling. “Some of the food we are regularly putting into our bodies is actually disrupting brain function and encouraging over-eating. No wonder Americans have such a hard time fighting weight gain and obesity.”

Through the direct training of brain function, neurofeedback therapy is a powerful tool for combating eating disorders. If you struggle with an eating disorder, neurofeedback can help by addressing the root causes of the brain dysregulation.  We are seeing good client results with self-governed non-medical neurofeedback techniques for our clients wishing to lose weight and keep it off, as well as those battling eating disorders.

At INDY Neurofeedback, we are happy to help you restore healthy cognition and eating habits.

 

This is Your Brain… on Love.

According to a new study, you really can be addicted (using that word in the most scientific way) to love.

After researchers looked at brain scans of those who had recently broken-up with loved ones, they found that recovering from a break-up is very similar to kicking an addiction to a drug.

“Romantic love is an addiction,” said Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of a recent study. Fishers believes that more contemporary addictions to things like nicotine, drugs, sex, or gambling are modern adaptations to the same ancient brain pathway that evolved millions of years ago. That love pathway evolved as a way to glue individuals to one another, focusing intense energy on a particular individual to ensure the continuation of our species.

Fisher, who has studied love, sex and relationships for more than a decade, previously focused on those happily in love. More recently, Fisher wanted to find out what was going on in the brain when sudden loss of love happened. She sees her most recent study using the just-jilted and dejected is he most important study she’ll ever do.

“Nobody gets out of love alive,” Fisher said. “You turn into a menace or a pest when you’ve been rejected. That’s when people stalk or commit suicide. (Love is) a very powerful brain system that has a dramatic effect on your entire life.”

The rejected love study

To test her love-as-an-addiction hypothesis, Fisher recruited 15 college-age, heterosexual men and women still raw and reeling from a recent break-up. On average, the participants had been rejected about two months prior to the study and said they were still in love.

As the participants looked at images of their ex lovers, the researchers looked at images of the participants’ brains.

Interestingly, the parts of the brain that lit up in Fisher’s study were the same ones associated with cocaine and nicotine addiction. The brain showed real physical pain as well as distress and attachment.

“There really is such a thing as a love addict,” says Helen Fisher. “When you are in love you absolutely crave the object of your affection. You’re willing to do crazy, stupid things, just as a person would while fighting a drug addiction.”

While psychologists have long helped clients cope with obsessions with love and relationships, some say the backing of science supporting love as an addiction could further help those seeking treatment for the condition.

“People have always said time heals love — and now using neurofeedback, we can add ‘addiction and love’ to the list of addictions for which we can help our clients,” says Leanne O’Neil. “As time goes on, the pain of rejected love does begin to fade, but in the meantime, there is a lot we can do to help our clients with resiliency and moving forward with their lives.“

Persistent Bullying Can Damage Adolescent Brains

Bullying adversely affects millions of young children and adolescents. All too often, the effects last years and sometimes, even decades. The problem is so widespread, it has been recognized as a global health challenge by the World Health Organization and The United Nations.

Bullying is defined as repeated and intentional verbal, physical, and anti-social behavior that intimidates, harms or marginalizes someone perceived as smaller, weaker, or less powerful. Among younger children, common forms of bullying include abusive language and physical harm. But this overt behavior tends to grow subtler with age. Adolescent bullies tend to routinely exclude, insult, and mock their targets. 

Among the more than 3.2 million American students who experience bullying every year, 10 to 15 percent will experience chronic bullying. Experiencing persistent peer victimization is associated with lower academic achievement, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.

So what does the adolescent brain look like after persistent bullying?

Recent adolescent brain research has focused on bullying’s impact on the brain and our stress response system. A paper published in Molecular Psychiatry showed that trauma and stress stemming from chronic bullying seems to affect the structure of the brain. 

Neuroimaging (MRI) data was collected from 682 European youths over eight years tracking adolescents to find out how bullying was associated with structural brain changes. 

Research found that participants who experienced chronic bullying had significant decreases in brain volume of two regions involved in movement and learning. Study participants also experienced higher levels of generalized anxiety. 

In these studies, “toxic” stress and the stress hormone cortisol appeared to alter brain development by impairing cognitive development. The body’s stress response – the release of cortisol — is activated when danger such as bullying is detected. Following an initial release of adrenaline, if danger (bullying) continues to be perceived, the adrenal glands continue to release cortisol into the bloodstream. The researchers are unsure of the exact mechanisms that link cortisol levels and cognitive functioning, but hypothesize that too much cortisol may have toxic effects on parts of the brain that are important for learning to occur. Depending on the child, the child’s age, and the level of stress from bullying, some of this brain change was long lasting (multiple months and even years), and some was shorter in duration.

Researchers conclude that chronic stress — such as experiencing persistent bullying — could absolutely have a negative effect on memory, cognition, sleep, appetite and other functions when continually on alert and not allowed to repair – especially in adolescents, whose brains are still growing and developing.

If your child is experiencing persistent bullying, it is important to get help with the lingering fears, depression and possible long-term brain function changes. INDY Neurofeedback can use brain mapping to determine which areas of the brain may be affected. Then, using neurofeedback, we can provide non-medical intervention to help your child become calmer, more focused, and better able to concentrate.

Have a question about bullying and the brain? Call or email us at INDY Neurofeedback.

Head Injuries and Suicide

At just 23 years old, Kelly Catlin was already an American professional racing cyclist, artist and violinist. She won a silver medal for cycling in the 2016 Summer Olympics and gold medals in the women’s team pursuit in 2016, 2017, and 2018 UCI Track Cycling World Championships. Catlin took her own life at Stanford University on March 7, 2019, following an episode of depression after suffering a concussion.

Kelly Catlin was open about her struggle to balance school with her career. But after she got into a series of cycling crashes last year, breaking her arm and suffering a concussion without realizing it, she was despondent. According to family members, she tried to keep her rigorous schedule, despite vision problems and severe headaches. She struggled to complete team workouts.

In January of 2019, Catlin tried taking her life for the first time. The suicide attempt left her with lung and heart issues, forcing her to withdraw from the 2019 Track Cycling World Championships. More angry and frustrated, a few of months later, she did commit suicide, dying from asphyxiation.

“From everything we know about concussions,” says Leanne O’Neil, owner of INDY Neurofeedback, “Catlin’s severe headaches, vision problems, and deep depression were not unusual symptoms. Unfortunately, it is also not unusual for concussions to remain undiagnosed even with presenting these dramatic symptoms, since there is presently no medical consensus for concussion diagnosis. Catlin’s concussion-related suicide has focused much needed interest and media attention on how traumatic brain injuries can affect mental health.”

According to the Neurology Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a concussion can increase an individual’s risk of suicide twofold (LINK: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/article-abstract/2712851). Another risk for Kelly Catlin was being an elite athlete. They are also at higher risk for anxiety and depression, both of which are risk factors for suicide.

“A brain injury such as a sports concussion has the potential to impact any aspect of your brain function,” says sports medicine and concussion specialist David Kruse, M.D., a USA Gymnastics Team Physician. Common concussion function issues include visual sensitivities, trouble concentrating, and sleep disturbance, all of which can also lead to changes in personality, mental status, mood, and behavior. However, the damage a concussion causes to your brain can also aggravate pre-existing brain conditions, says Dr. Kruse.

“An athlete may have no personal history of anxiety or depression but may have a family member who struggles with the condition,” explains Dr. Kruse. “We know that mental disorders can be genetic, so that athlete is already susceptible to developing anxiety or depression. If this athlete sustained a concussion, he or she would be more predisposed to developing anxiety or depression as a symptom compared to another athlete who has no family history of the condition.”

Although we don’t know whether mental health issues were present in Catlin’s family, we do now understand that family history may explain the rapid devolvement of symptoms following concussion that Catlin experienced. Hopefully her story can help others experiencing concussion-related depression. Public awareness is crucial.

“Most people don’t realize that concussions are traumatic brain injuries,” says Dr. Kruze. “Some concussions are easily recognized, but some can be subtle and pervasive, so it’s important to educate people on how concussions can present and how they can affect all aspects of brain function.”

“We all need to take brain injuries more seriously,” says Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback.

If you or someone you know is deeply depressed or struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

After you have received medical attention for a concussion, if have lingering brain trauma issues such as difficultly with memory or concentration, INDY Neurofeedback can help you retrain your brain. Call us for a free consultation.