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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

A hug is duct tape for the soul.

At the Franklin Institute Resources for Science Learning Online Web site, you can find some suggestions for brain exercises. For example, one exercise is to switch the hand you are using to control the computer mouse. According to the site, this exercise can strengthen neural connections and even create new ones. You can vary this exercise by switching to "the opposite hand to brush your teeth, dial the phone or operate the TV remote."

"Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation discovered that a muscle can be strengthened just by thinking about exercising it. The researchers said strength gains were due to improvements in the brain's ability to signal muscle."

"Neurobics™ is a unique system of brain exercises using your five physical senses and your emotional sense in unexpected ways that encourage you to shake up your everyday routines. They are designed to help your brain manufacture its own nutrients that strengthen, preserve, and grow brain cells.

Created by Lawrence C. Katz, Ph.D., a professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, neurobics can be done anywhere, anytime, in offbeat, fun and easy ways. Nevertheless, these exercises can activate underused nerve pathways and connections, helping you achieve a fit and flexible mind."
A few neurobic exercises:

Include one or more of your senses in an everyday task
-- "Get dressed with your eyes closed."

Combine two senses --
"Listen to music and smell flowers / Listen to the rain and tap your fingers"
Break routines -- Go to work on a new route / Eat with your opposite hand / Shop at new grocery store

Benefits from Bingo:
"A cognitive psychologist in England found that when elderly people regularly played bingo, it helped minimize their memory loss and bolster their hand-eye coordination. Bingo seemed to help players of all ages remain mentally sharp."

Visit the Franklin Institute site for more ideas on exercising your brain.

Next time we'll look at more about Neurobics.

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In my last post, I asked readers who'd had a TBI to submit brain exercises that helped them. Not surprising, Jack was the first to respond. He submitted juggling and video games. (He has personal experience with the former, and anecdotal evidence of the latter.) A regular visitor to one of Jack's support groups is an accomplished juggler, and he's been working with the group to improve their juggling skills. The exercise may prove to be more beneficial than originally thought. You can buy the book pictured here at Amazon.
"Street performers, circus entertainers and clowns: they can all juggle. Neuroscientists are now getting into the juggling act. Brain researchers at the University of Regensburg (Germany) have found that learning to juggle can change brain structure." Read more here.Amazon.comYou can also buy a set of juggling balls at Amazon.

As for Video Games:
"These scholars are the first to admit that games can be addictive, and indeed part of their research explores how games connect to the reward circuits of the human brain. But they are now beginning to recognize the cognitive benefits of playing video games: pattern recognition, system thinking, even patience. Lurking in this research is the idea that gaming can exercise the mind the way physical activity exercises the body: It may be addictive because it’s challenging." Read more.

And this:
"In many circles, video games are still considered to be a waste of time. However, recent work in cognitive neuroscience has shown that certain types of video games can result in a variety of positive changes to visual attention, hand-eye coordination, and other perceptual skills.

As Green and Bavelier showed in an already-classic 2003 Nature article, action video game players (VGP's) were shown to have increased visual attention capacity on a flanker distractor task, as well as thought to show improvements in their ability to subitize (this is basically the process by which you can tell how many items are in a display without actually counting each item serially). In fact, VGP's could correctly subitize up to 5 items on average, while non-VGP's could subitize only three on average."
Read more on this study here.DVD Source

We know that a TBI may result in loss of sense of time and space or spatial disorientation and difficulties with hand/eye coordination. Video games may help the brain to restore some of this loss. Video games are also assisting research activities:
"Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr. Maria Schultheis has discovered an unexpected admiration for the video game industry. More specifically, she appreciates the technical skills of their engineers, especially their ability to create realistic, incredibly complex interactive environments. And while it’s unlikely that she’ll be hooked on Grand Theft Auto anytime soon, Schultheis doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge that the gaming industry has been the driving force behind the rapid growth and sophistication of “virtual reality” systems, which she and a team of researchers are putting to unique new uses at the Kessler Medical Rehabilitation Research and Education Corporation (KMRREC) in West Orange, New Jersey." Read more.
Next time, a look at more brain exercises and what they are really doing to your brain.

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I've known Jack for a little more than two years now. Close to a year ago I noticed something that is good news for TBI'ers. Other friends of Jack have since noticed the same thing. Jack's memory improved during that year. In fact, I believe his condition has improved in several ways since I first met him. (In case you don't know, Jack is over 80 years old and almost 20 years out from the automobile accident that caused most of the damage to his brain.)

I know the standard line is that most improvement will happen in the first year after the TBI. This is probably true, but that doesn't mean improvement will not continue. It just might happen at a slower rate. Jack is a perfect example of this. 20 years after his injury, his memory starts improving again. (Medical science still has an awful lot to learn about the brain.)

We're not sure to what we should attribute this improvement, but I do know that Jack continually pushes his brain to do more and more. He spends a lot of time on the computer; he stays up to date on his investments; he watches health shows on tv; he listens to NPR; but most of all, he stays involved in projects that interest him -- like this Web site, and digital canopies, the homeless, public tv, TBI's for a myriad of reasons, a national Web connection for the Society of Friends, the beginning of human life and its affect on stem-cell research and abortions, the importance of caregivers and physiatrists, and the list goes on.

Jack also gets a lot of physical exercise. He's an avid tennis player, and, weather permitting, he's on the courts several times a week. In fact, he got back into tennis about a year before we noticed the memory improvement. Coincidence? Maybe. But physical exercise is good for us for a lot of reasons. And if it turns out that it helps improve brain function, we'll be that much ahead of the game if we get started now.

If you've suffered a TBI and have used brain exercises that were helpful, we'd like to hear about them. Please use the Comments option to share your successful excercises with us and other readers. That's one of the main reasons Jack started this blog, to share information with people who live with a TBI. Please help us do that. What brain excercise(s) helped you?

Note: The picture with this post is from the Alzheimers Assisted Living Blog.

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$1.7 million NIH grant to UC Scientists

Cincinnati Business Courier - July 6, 2007, The National Institutes of Health has awarded $1.7 million to a University of Cincinnati scientist to do molecular research that could lead to better treatments for brain injury patients.

Kenneth Strauss will study two types of molecules known as eicosanoids, which are created by injured brain cells, to confirm that they can protect healthy brain cells from further damage.

If successful, Strauss's research could lead to a new class of drugs designed to enhance the levels of these helpful molecules, and thereby improve outcomes in patients who have suffered traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability among people aged 16 to 45.

Read it here.

Diagnoses, treatments have changed
for some veterans' health problems

The Herald-Mail Online, Monday July 9, 2007,
Of approximately 686,000 troops who had returned from Iraq and Afghanistan and left the military, about 229,000 had gone to Veterans Affairs facilities as of April for health care, whether it was a veteran getting a flu shot or a quadriplegic receiving perpetual care, said VA spokesman Phil Budahn in Washington, D.C.

Budahn said he didn't have specific statistics for injuries caused by IEDs, but the VA was treating about 400 people for traumatic brain injuries. Such injuries could range from subtle symptoms such as loss of concentration all the way up to extreme personality changes and short-term memory loss.

In the past, everyone thought they understood the risks of traumatic brain injury to be obvious physical injury such as shrapnel, so traumatic brain injury wasn't always properly diagnosed, Budahn said.

But in 2003, a study out of the Tampa, Fla., VA hospital pointed out that people could experience a closed head trauma, or concussion, with no visible wounds, just from being close to a bomb going off, said Dr. John Sentell, chief of Mental Health Service at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center.

The brain can get injured from an IED blast without visible blood; even from the brain being jostled in the skull from the blast, Sentell said. These less obvious traumatic brain injuries are more common in today's wars and often make diagnosis difficult.

Read it here.

Illinois program first in the nation to provide
TBI screening for state’s returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

July 3, 2007 -- CHICAGO – On the eve of Independence Day, Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich was joined by Tammy Duckworth, Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs (IDVA) to announce a first-of-its-kind program to screen every returning Illinois National Guard member for traumatic brain injury (TBI), offer TBI screening to Illinois Veterans, and 24-hour toll-free psychological assistance for Veterans suffering from PTSD. The program increases health care benefits for Veterans and will later become part of the Governor’s Illinois Covered insurance plan.

The program will work in two parts: The TBI portion will mandate screening for all Illinois National Guard members returning from deployment and offer free screening to all Illinois Veterans, especially those returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The PTSD portion will offer 24-hour, toll-free psychological assistance to give Veterans suffering from PTSD a place to turn, day or night, for help.

Read it here.

Integra LifeSciences Supports Newest Edition
of Brain Trauma Foundation's Guidelines for
the Management of Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

CNN, PLAINSBORO, N.J., June 28, 2007
-- Integra LifeSciences Holdings Corporation (Nasdaq:IART) announced today its support for the third edition of the Brain Trauma Foundation's Guidelines for the Management of Severe Traumatic Brain Injury (Guidelines). The Guidelines are nationally recognized and referenced by many of the leading trauma centers in treatment of patients with traumatic brain injury. They are available for viewing at

The Guidelines were developed by the Brain Trauma Foundation (BTF) in association with the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS), and the AANS/CNS Joint Section on Neurotrauma and Critical Care, and incorporate the latest published research findings relevant to the diagnosis and treatment of severe traumatic brain injury.

Read it here.

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