I had the opportunity to speak to the same group of people I spoke to almost exactly a year ago and it seemed to go better this time. What did I do that was different? Two things were different. I had a couple of days warning this year whereas last year I had about a half hour to prepare. The second thing that was different is that I shook hands and spoke to as many people as I could before the event started. I thought that by doing that I could sort of get my verbal faculties in gear. I recalled that some time in the past I had been interviewing a large number of people during the course of one evening for a radio report and that I seemed to gather steam as I went along and had less and less trouble thinking of what to say or how to respond. I think the warm up idea worked although there was quite a temptation to just sit quietly until I was called upon. That’s more or less what I had done last year. I did have some difficulties but nothing on the order of what I experienced before. I also took a lot less time speaking than what I had been allotted in the belief that your audience is more likely to let you off the hook, if they don’t like what you are saying, as long as you don’t take too long to say it.
Anyone who has owned a computer knows the more RAM the better. RAM, or remote access memory, is the computer equivalent of working memory. Working memory refers to the brain’s capacity to briefly hold and manipulate information. The latest research referred to on a website called Future Pundit by a research team at Michigan State University suggests that working memory can be the deciding factor between good and great. Some researchers break this down further into verbal working memory as well as numerical working memory and visual/non-verbal working memory. I know, for example, that I have poor visual/non-verbal working memory. The other two functions seem to work okay. For me this translates into problems learning from visual experiences. Or translating verbal instructions into movement. It became most apparent when I starting doing kobojutsu (karate weapons). The sensai (instructor) would demonstrate a sequence of moves and then ask me to do it. I would stand there with no idea, actually no mental picture, of what he had just done. I wouldn’t have been able to persist at it if I had not had an understanding instructor. His name was Jason Forbes and he was a fourth degree black belt. He was patient beyond belief. But perhaps even more importantly, if I wasn’t getting it, Jason took it as his fault and try to impart the information another way. I think this separates good teachers from the truly great. I don’t ever remember Jason losing his temper with me or even his patience in spite of the fact that I frequently lost both. Well to be honest what I experienced was frustration. Jason used to say that he could see the smoke coming out of my ears and at these times he would quietly suggest that I take a break and he would move on with the rest of the class.
Why am I posting this? For two reasons-one as an illustration of the frustration and sense of defeat that often goes hand-in-hand with learning disabilities and two to honor teachers like Jason who can make all the difference in the world, who make learning possible where it otherwise might not be.
A friend asked me recently why I was interested enough in neuroplasticity to undertake the creation and maintenance of a blog on the subject. I replied, and I had to think for a moment, that I found it exciting because it was a new frontier in medicine. The friend happens to be a physician and her response was a knowing smile and a nod. I have read that almost all of our knowledge in the field of neuroscience has been gained in the last ten years. But there is more to my interest than that. Neuroplasticity means hope, hope that things will change. I read a post on a site called MD Junction by a patient who is particularly depression prone. She takes great comfort, not that new findings in neuroscience can treat her depression but that it can help reverse negative behaviors and habits. Current thinking in the treatment of neurological disorders is that if you don’t have symptoms you don’t have the disorder. For example, a firefighter might have been diagnosed with ADHD in high school but in his high stimulation job, he functions quite well–so no symptoms, no ADHD. To me this means that the disorder gets separated from the person. Not long after my diagnosis, a friend said to me at a low point, “You are not an ADHD person–you are a person with ADHD.” I still have symptoms, even on medication but I have never forgotten the hope inherent in my friend’s statement. And he would know because he too has been diagnosed with ADHD. Hope means many things but perhaps the most important is the idea of change. St. Augustine said that hope has two lovely daughters: anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.
The Center for Stroke Recovery in Toronto assembled a dream team of neuroscienctists to employ the latest findings in neuroscience to help stroke victims recover. Much of the effort afforded by a $10 million donation from the Heart and Stroke Foundation will focus on the association between exercise and brain health. Dr. Dale Corbett, CEO and Scientific Director of the center says, “We’re excited about the significance of how exercise can improve brain health by changing the blood flow to the brain to speed up recovery after a stroke.” Research will focus on learning what intensity and duration of exercise will bring the best results in getting the brain to reorganize and compensate for stroke damage.
A friend recently posted a link on Facebook to a report by a research team from Duke University Medical Central along with some Australian scientists who found that, “Addictive drugs may hijack the same nerve cells and connections in the brain that serve a powerful, ancient instinct: the appetite for salt.” One of the co-authors of the report, Wolfgang Lietke, M.D., Ph.D. said, “We were surprised and gratified to see that blocking addiction-related pathways could powerfully interfere with sodium appetite. Our findings have profound and far-reaching medical implications, and could lead to a new understanding of addiction and the detrimental consequences when obesity-generating foods are overloaded with sodium.” You can read more about the study and its implications for addiction research here.
This finding reminded me of something Tim Bilkey M.D. told me in a consultation following his diagnosis of my ADHD. He noted that in his clinical practice he was finding that patients with ADHD had cravings for salt in snacks not sugar. He wondered whether there might be some connection to the fact that the most commonly prescribed drugs for this condition–Dexedrine and amphetamine–are technically salts.