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Brain fitness class’ monthly Q&A: Memory, stress, emotions, and more

Registered participants in the new e-course How to Be Your Own Brain Fitness Coach can take part in a monthly online Q&A session to discuss progress and open questions with the course faculty and with fellow participants. Below is the transcript of the October 30th Q&A session, lightly edited and anonymized.

Course Faculty (or F): OK, we are ready to start. You can start writing and submitting any questions and comments! The Internet seems to be very slow today, perhaps given Sandy storm. We have a Comcast crew in front of our building. Let’s try to see if this works today, and if not we’ll find another day and time.

Course Participant (or P): The results so far of my participation in the course How to be you own brain fitness coach…1. I followed up the brain fitness plan that I designed at the end of the course. 2. Mental stimulation pillar – Translation of scientific articles from English to Spanish. 3 While I translated I listen to classical music. 4. Slow pace at the beginning. Then faster pace. 5. Then I became fully aware of the material 6 At the same time the music began making sense. I was able to understand every word. Key is the integration of the four pillars discussed in the course. It is like something click.

F:  That looks fascinating indeed! Someone else has already watched any of the lectures?

P: I just watched the first lesson last night. I am very excited about the quality of the knowledge, experience, and expertise of all of you.

P: I was particularly interested in what the speaker said in lesson 1 about the brain making sense of emotions.

F: Yes, that is key. We often view memory, thinking, emotions, as completely separate entities, but they truly are part of the same process, so if we want to improve overall brain health we need to pay attention to the “weak link” whatever it is. And in today’s society, managing stress and negative emotions is often that weak link.

F: A participant mentions he has attended some very interesting wine courses in the past, and embarked on interesting wine-related activities. What is the difference between this brain fitness course and those wine courses?

P: Whereas the wine courses were very stimulating, it is only one area. The difference is that this course activates the whole nextwork. The connectome.

F:  Interesting point. The wine courses provided mental stimulation, whereas this course leads to more holistic and integrated actions (well, as much as the student actually leads them!)

P: You are discussing the concepts that I have been living. My own situation is very complicated. I’m trying to figure out how to talk about it in this limited format. It’s a challenge but definitely a very good one for me.

F: Indeed it is good to see challenges as good opportunities to learn and grow…as long as we have the toolkit to do so. This is what we wanted to bring via the course: knowledge and a toolkit to empower you to deal with challenges. We can obviously not go into personal details, but what would you say is one of the areas you want to learn more about via this course?

P: My brain was injured because of hypoxia during a procedure in the cath lab 8 years ago. It’s been very difficult getting any help but I have been very successful in that I got my claim approved through my long-term care insurance policy. This means I have a large monthly budget for the rest of my life to hire a team of people who can help me manage my life.

F: That is indeed one area we cannot go deep since this is a course aimed at health and the general public, we cannot deal with individual clinical needs. But it is good you have that budget – are you working with a good neuropsychologist?

P: My team now includes a personal assistant to help me manage details in my life like my home. I have a personal chef who comes one day a week so that I can eat the best foods to support my brain. I have 2 exceptional chiropractors who help manage my food, body, and emotions. I have a a massage therapist who also works with my doctors and helps me communicate with them. My internist does integrative medicine. I have a housekeeping team who takes care of the inside of my home and the outside. I am the only claim of this sort at my insurance company.

F: That is a great team to help cope with life in its multiple facets. What a neuropsychologist could help you with is with identifying the particular brain-based skills you may need help with and lead a cognitive rehab process, so you get better over time.

P: When you get to the four pillars of good brain health you will see that is like building a room to protect your brain. It will all come together. Believe me. I am 78 years old I am beginning a new career. Yes, it is possible.

F: I like the metaphor of “building a room.” What would you say of the other tools we discuss in the course, such as biofeedback and cognitive training?

P: Tremendous help. The reason is that those two tools together with meditation bring the whole into one.

P: Today, because of my team, I am able to continue problem solving in my life. I have been very successful at this, but have to be very careful about avoiding hypervigilence. I want to work on emotional connections to the people around me. That’s why I picked up on the lecturer’s mentions of emotions.

F: That makes sense. I think you’ll enjoy the talk and activities around meditation and biofeedback during sessions 2 and 3

P: I just signed up for a mindfulness workshop at UCLA in December. I’m looking forward to that.

F: Excellent. We have found that biofeedback tools can make it easier to understand and master mindfulness, so perhaps you want to give it a try before your December workshop to arrive well equipped. 

F: Based on everything we cover in the course, how would you say you self-monitor progress now? how does that compare to what you did before the course?

P: It is much better know. That is the reason why I am able to do what I do.

F: How do you know it is better now?

P: One measure. How many people do you know that are able to translate a scientific manuscript at 1000 words every 5 hours at my age?

P: This is very inspiring!

P:  Never take no for an answer. That is no mine. Its Winston Churchill.

F: That is indeed interesting. I really don’t know about average translation speed rates, but what you are saying is that now you feel more in control, you feel you can perform better that before. I agree that is what matters.

P: One of my goals in the course is to be able to pass on resources to my LTC insurance company. They are shockingly ignorant about the needs of someone with a cognitive impairment claim. I am also the agent on this policy. I worked for this company for 27 years. I would not have gotten this claim if not for the help of associates/friends who are experts in LTC insurance. My new “job” is to make it possible for regular people to get this kind of help through their policies. It doesn’t appear to be happening right now.

F: That is indeed one huge gap – so it is good to hear you are trying to solve it! cognitive health in general has been and still is neglected within overall health, and this is only starting to change because of a combination of new science and technology AND people like you trying to drive chance. See this brief note and paper, quite relevant. It is not the same condition/ cause, but the underlying theme is the same: how to accelerate cognitive rehab.

P: I just had an interesting conversation with the claims manager of my LTC insurance provider when she asked me how my doctors know if I’m getting better for worse. The best I could do was say I just by my level of stress. It is important to me to be able to objectively measure that. One of the problems in my situation is that it’s not a straight line because of my brain injuries.

F: A neuropsychologist would also be able to assess your starting baseline of brain functioning and then document how that evolves over time. During the course we discuss a number of tools for consumers to do this themselves as a proxy but this wouldn’t be relevant to your situation.

P: My insurance company didn’t want to approve my claim for severe cognitive impairment until I had deteriorated to the point where it was visibly obvious. No one with a limitation of their other physical activities of daily living is required to wait until their life is totally destroyed to get help. I am fortunate to be going thru this at a time when people are hearing about football players and soldiers whose lives are being destroyed because people don’t believe the need help.

F: Indeed, brain problems are often “silent” and that is a tragedy. That’s why we have been tracking assessments for years, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” We have only a few minutes left. Any other feedback regarding the course? is everything clear? how to watch lectures, access materials and discussions…

P: Not yet, but I’m sure I will. How do I ask questions other than the Q&A sessions?


F: To the course faculty, via this monthly Q&A. To other fellow students, via the Discussion Forum.

P: Thank you for this Q&A.

F: Have a nice day!

–> The next Q&A session will take place on Tuesday, November 27th. To Learn More and Register: click on How to Be Your Own Brain Fitness Coach

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