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Study: Sports-related concussions can impact academic performance, especially in high school

HIGH-SCHOOL-FOOTBALL-FIELD

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Con­cus­sions Are Hav­ing An Alarm­ing Impact On The Aca­d­e­mics Of Stu­dents (Reuters):

Stud­ies in the last five years have focused large­ly on the ath­let­ic side of the equa­tion — “tak­ing them off the field, not putting them back on the field with symp­toms, but this is real­ly look­ing at the stu­dent side of the equa­tion,” said Read the rest of this entry »

Memory Problems? Perhaps you are Multi-tasking

Today’s kids are into mul­ti-task­ing. This is the gen­er­a­tion hooked on iPods, IM’ing, video games — not to men­tion TV! Many peo­ple in my gen­er­a­tion think it is won­der­ful that kids can do all these things simul­ta­ne­ous­ly and are impressed with their com­pe­tence.

Well, as a teacher of such kids when they reach col­lege, I am not impressed. Col­lege stu­dents these days have short atten­tion spans and have trou­ble con­cen­trat­ing. They got this way in sec­ondary school. I see this in the mid­dle-school out­reach pro­gram I help run. At this age kids are real­ly wrapped up in mul­ti-task­ing at the expense of focus.

Accord­ing to a Kaiser Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion study last year, school kids in all grades beyond the sec­ond grade com­mit­ted, on aver­age, more than six hours per day to TV or videos, music, video games, and com­put­ers. Almost one-third report­ed that “most of the time” they did their home­work while chat­ting on the phone, surf­ing the Web, send­ing instant mes­sages, watch­ing TV, or lis­ten­ing to music.

Kids think that this enter­tain­ment while study­ing helps their learn­ing. It prob­a­bly does make learn­ing less tedious, but it clear­ly makes learn­ing less effi­cient and less effec­tive. Mul­ti-task­ing vio­lates every­thing we know about how mem­o­ry works. Now we have objec­tive sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that Read the rest of this entry »

Can food improve brain health?

In oth­er words, may some foods be specif­i­cal­ly good for brain func­tion?

For a great in-depth review of the effects of food on the brain you can check out Fer­nan­do Gomez-Pinilla’s recent arti­cle in Nature Reviews Neu­ro­science (ref­er­ence below). Here is an overview of the state off the research.

Sev­er­al com­po­nents of diet seem to have a pos­i­tive effect on brain func­tion.

Omega-3 fat­ty acids

These acids are nor­mal con­stituents of cell mem­branes and are essen­tial for nor­mal brain func­tion. Omega-3 fat­ty acids can be found in fish (salmon), kiwi, and wal­nuts. Docosa­hexaenoic acid, or DHA, is the most abun­dant omega-3 fat­ty acid in cell mem­branes in the brain. The human body pro­duces DHA but not enough. So we are depen­dent on the DHA that we get from what we eat.

A ran­dom­ized dou­ble-blind con­trolled tri­al (which means seri­ous­ly con­duct­ed sci­en­tif­ic study) is cur­rent­ly look­ing at the effect of tak­ing omega-3 fat­ty acids on children’s per­for­mance at school in Eng­land. Pre­lim­i­nary results (Port­wood, 2006) sug­gest that Read the rest of this entry »

Executive Functions, Education and Alzheimer’s Disease

I just read a very inter­est­ing arti­cle in Newsweek: Exec­u­tive Func­tions: The School Skill That May Mat­ter More Than IQ. A few quotes:

- “But recent advances in psy­chol­o­gy and brain sci­ence are now sug­gest­ing that a child’s abil­i­ty to inhib­it dis­tract­ing thoughts and stay focused may be a fun­da­men­tal cog­ni­tive skill, one that plays a big part in aca­d­e­m­ic suc­cess from The Executive Brain by Elkhonon Goldbergpreschool on. Indeed, this and close­ly relat­ed skills may be more impor­tant than tra­di­tion­al IQ in pre­dict­ing a child’s school per­for­mance.”

- “EF (exec­u­tive func­tions) com­pris­es not only effort­ful con­trol and cog­ni­tive focus but also work­ing mem­o­ry and men­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty the abil­i­ty to adjust to change, to think out­side the box.”

- “When the teacher holds up a cir­cle they clap, with a tri­an­gle they hop, and so forth. The kids are taught to talk them­selves through the men­tal exer­cise: “OK, now clap.” “Twirl now.” This has been shown to flex and enhance the brain’s abil­i­ty to switch gears, to sup­press one piece of infor­ma­tion and sub in a new one. It takes dis­ci­pline; it’s the ele­men­tary school equiv­a­lent of say­ing “I real­ly need stop think­ing about next week’s vaca­tion and focus on this report.”

The main points: exec­u­tive func­tions are cru­cial for suc­cess in life, AND they can be trained. I couldn’t agree more with the arti­cle in that cog­ni­tive train­ing should be part of the edu­ca­tion cur­ricu­lum and receive more research dol­lars to deter­mine exact­ly how to best do so.

I read anoth­er very inter­est­ing arti­cle on Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. Which may look like a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent top­ic than the one above…but please bear with me. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Highlights from the 2007 Aspen Health Forum

AspenThe Aspen Health Forum gath­ered an impres­sive group of around 250 peo­ple to dis­cuss the most press­ing issues in Health and Med­ical Sci­ence (check out the Pro­gram and the Speak­ers bios), on Octo­ber 3–6th. It was the first con­fer­ence, by the way, where I have heard a speak­er say: “I resus­ci­tat­ed a woman yes­ter­day”.

Key high­lights and trends:

1- Glob­al health prob­lems require the atten­tion of the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Richard Klaus­ner encour­aged the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty to focus on Glob­al Prob­lems: mater­nal mor­tal­i­ty rates, HIV/ AIDS, nutri­tion, can­cer, clean water.  Bill Frist, for­mer Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader, added to that list the increas­ing epi­dem­ic risks of glob­al zoot­ic dis­eases (trans­mit­ted between humans and ani­mals), sup­port­ed by 2 inter­est­ing data points: at any one moment, there are 500,000 peo­ple fly­ing world­wide; in a year, air­lines trans­port the equiv­a­lent of 2 bil­lion pas­sen­gers.

2- “Let’s get real…Ideology kills”. Mary Robin­son, for­mer Pres­i­dent of Ire­land, on what it takes to stop HIV/ AIDS: “I am from Ire­land, a Catholic coun­try. And I am Catholic. But I can see how ide­ol­o­gy kills..we need more empa­thy with real­i­ty, and to work with local women in those coun­tries who need things like female con­doms.” She was implic­it­ly crit­i­ciz­ing the large bud­get devot­ed to unre­al­is­tic absti­nence pro­grams. This ses­sion includ­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing exchange where Bill Frist rose from the audi­ence to defend the role of US aid, explain­ing how 60% of retro­vi­ral drugs in African coun­tries have been fund­ed by the Amer­i­can tax­pay­er, high­light­ing Pres­i­dent Bush’s courage to make HIV/AIDS a top agen­da item in many devel­op­ing coun­tries, and crit­i­ciz­ing oth­er coun­tries for not doing enough. Which made Nobel Prize Lau­re­ate Peter Agre, also in the audi­ence, stand up and encour­age the US to real­ly step up to the plate and devote 1% of the GDP to aid, as a num­ber of Euro­pean coun­tries do, instead of 0.1%.

3- Where is the new “Sput­nik”?: Basic sci­ence is cru­cial for inno­va­tion and for eco­nom­ic growth, but it is often under­ap­pre­ci­at­ed. Sci­en­tists are not “nerds”, as some­times they are por­trayed in pop­u­lar cul­ture, but peo­ple with a deep curios­i­ty and dri­ve to solve a Big prob­lem. Many of the speak­ers had been inspired by the Sput­nik and the Apol­lo mis­sions to become sci­en­tists, at a time when the pro­fes­sion was con­sid­ered cool. Two Nobel Prize Lau­re­ates (Peter Agre, Michael Bish­op), talked about their lives and careers try­ing to demys­ti­fy what it takes to be a sci­en­tist and to win a Nobel Prize. Both are grate­ful to the tax­pay­ers dol­lars that fund­ed their research, and insist we must do a bet­ter job at explain­ing the Sputniksci­en­tif­ic process to soci­ety at large. Both are proud of hav­ing attend­ed small lib­er­al arts col­leges, and hav­ing evolved from there, fueled by their great curios­i­ty and unpre­dictable, serendip­i­tous paths, into launch­ing new sci­en­tif­ic and med­ical fields.  Bish­op list­ed a num­ber of times where he made deci­sions that were con­sid­ered “career sui­cide” by men­tors and col­leagues, and men­tioned “I was con­fused” around 15 times in 15 minutes…down to earth and inspir­ing.

4- We need a true Health Care Cul­ture: Mark Ganz sum­ma­rized it best by explain­ing how his health provider group improved care when they rede­fined them­selves from “we are 7,000 employ­ees” to “we are a 3 mil­lion strong com­mu­ni­ty”, mov­ing from Read the rest of this entry »

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