Today’s Brain Health Moment

Considering that the brain is the consistency of soft butter (eeek…) and any blow to the head can jostle it against the skull, not to mention that the skull is not indestructible itself, I decided that today, before my ride, I would dig out the old bike helmet. This is also part of my heightened awareness campaign.

The thing is so awfully uncomfortable that I went to the internet to see if I could figure out a better adjustment. Of course there were many good tutorials there, but I still couldn’t quite be satisfied. This is my helmet.

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Title is good. At least they mean well…
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Just poly foam, that’s all. Might make a good container for an orchid plant…

Amidst all the instructions on knob turning, strap shortening and pad fitting I discovered my helmet is the simple version – no knobs, no stabilizing strap, no pads. Pretty much no protection. I wore it anyway, just in case it might ward off a falling tree limb or something. It makes me look like a serious biker, kind of.  Lol.  I will be putting a new one on my Amazon wish list.

Here are some more of my rules for sharing the roadway with whatever is out there.

  1. Always assume you are invisible to everyone especially cars driven by the very young or very old. Everyone.
  2. Signal your intentions clearly, especially when there is someone who needs to know.
  3. Always know who is behind you – use your mirror.
  4. Aim for intersections with stoplights to cross busy roads.
  5. If there are two or more cars waiting to do something at an intersection, stop, feet on the ground and wait it out.
  6. Wear a helmet, don’t wear floppy things that will get caught in gears or wheels.
  7. Check tire pressure and brakes before starting out.

Can you think of more? I need all the help I can get.

More Good News

This is more about my recent excitement after watching a PBS presentation by Dr. Daniel Amen. I don’t know why I had never heard of his research before, since it is not new or hidden. First, look at all these acronyms and think of how many of them have affected you or people you love:

OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder

ADD – attention deficit disorder

PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder

TBI – traumatic brain injury

and then there’s also depression, anxiety, epilepsy, dementia, Alzheimer’s and a whole range of behaviors that we call mental illness and that are becoming common words in our society. The science of mental health was always kind of mysterious to me in nursing school, and since then as well. Sometimes therapies worked, sometimes worked for a short while, sometimes not at all. Medications were so “trial and error” oriented that they were discouraging. Many of them produced side effects worse than the condition they were treating. What I saw had me thinking that having a brain problem was a sad and permanent downhill course. And that is why I am so thankful for this research that shows otherwise.

Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist, a psychiatrist and a brain imaging expert. His research includes over 83,000 of a particular kind of nuclear medicine images called SPECT or (get ready for big words) single photon emission computerized tomography. What this is, according to WebMD, a gamma camera that rotates around the patient taking pictures from many angles which a computer then uses to form a cross sectional image.

When I saw the before and after images of brains having some of the above listed mental health diagnoses and saw visible improvement that correlated with behavior improvement, I became a believer in what he was saying. You need to go look at these images, seriously. He explains it very well in some of his TEDx talks (like this one, click here). A couple of his most important and revolutionizing statements are “When your brain is not right, your relationships won’t be right” and “Change your brain – change your life, and here’s proof”.

I’ve not been diagnosed with a mental health issue. I’ve never been in therapy (although I’ve wished many times to have been) but I’ve had mild concussions, PMS, headaches, periods of anxiety, deep sadness. Who hasn’t? I’ve watched patients with dementia and worried that I would someday struggle with that. I’ve watched friends go through the stages of Alzheimer’s dementia and cried with their families. This is the first time I’ve heard that we can see even these things before they happen and do something about them. We can understand  what’s going on and counter with proven strategies instead of “shooting in the dark”, as Dr. Amen puts it.

(Btw, if you are a parent with a child who plays football, you need to hear about his treatment of professional football players with brain injuries. Even supposedly mild blows to the head create some images that show amazing amounts of damage, but the improvement that can be made is equally amazing.)

So that’s what has me excited. I’m going to watch more of his presentations. A lot of his treatments are related to exercise, good nutrition, good sleep, and good thoughts. In other words, it’s do-able and we should be doing it. Again, just sayin’.

Today

wp-1475351906555.jpgToday I got back on my bike, avoiding falling down, and traveled 10.5 miles through 5 different trailer parks. I ride with heightened awareness, of course, because that’s what an accident/mishap should do for you if you survive it. I did this for my physical health and my mental health, which brings me to the topic I’m interested in today.

Some things appear on the radar in a way that warrants more attention – like maybe they appear from a couple different directions within a short time period. I always pay attention when this happens because I’m a person who prays for God’s direction, any way he cares to give it. I think if I ask for help, I’d better be looking out for it, duh?

Here it was, the first thing, an appointment with my doctor that was made so long ago I couldn’t remember why it was made. But I went. It was part of my “welcome to Medicare” physical. Several months ago I had the first part where you answer a lot of questions, get lectured on how you should be keeping healthy, and have $700 worth of tests ordered (that figure is low and doesn’t count the bone density test and mammogram…). The last part is when your doctor goes over the results of the tests with you and gives recommendations. My doctor was so booked up that I didn’t get the second part until 6 months after the first part.

So far in my aging process, I’ve been able to avoid medications except for a few supplements that I take sporadically. But I have been concerned about my blood pressure gradually creeping up and my cholesterol numbers as well. I am doing some lifestyle alterations to deal with the blood pressure but the cholesterol is a bit more complicated of an issue. There is a group of medications called “statins” that I am pretty convinced are not good for people and that I do not want to take. Is my supposedly bad LDL cholesterol sticking to the insides of my coronary arteries? Not necessarily, and I am going to find out for sure in a week.

Do you get check ups? Do you know your cholesterol numbers? If you have high LDL levels, you might be interested in the test called Coronary Calcium Scan. It is an x-ray that shows whether there are calcium deposits or plaque building up in the arteries of your heart. In some people high LDL cholesterol leads to plaque, which leads to blockage and a heart attack eventually. In other people the LDL’s just slip on through and don’t stick to the insides of the arteries – because it’s complicated and involves a lot of other factors (that you don’t want to hear now). It is very helpful to know which kind of person you are for obvious reasons. Insurance doesn’t always cover this test, but for some reason a couple labs in my area are running sales – $50.  There is almost nothing available in health care that only costs $50, so I am springing for it out of pocket. As I said, that’s the first thing.

The second thing that popped on the radar was brain health. The husband and I were watching PBS last night and they were fundraising. But their fundraising is less tortuous than some. Here is the question that struck me as we watched this special. We expect to be told to have a baseline EKG (heart health). We expect to be told to have a colonoscopy after the age of 50 (gut health), we expect to be looked over for skin cancer, and we expect mammograms and bone density. So what is missing from this picture, something important to every one of the aforementioned systems? Your brain! We don’t hear much about checking our brain and attending to its health – and the good news is, there are ways to do it and ways to help your brain be healthy.

I am truly excited to know this. Today I got some exercise so my brain would have a healthier body in which to live. I’ll share a little more next post – I have an aversion to writing anything over 700 words. Just sayin’…