22 February 2009


Prompted by two events there has been a lot in the media about dementia during the past week. The first event was when the former newsreader John Suchet described in an interview how his wife Bonnie is suffering from the illness and the second was the knighthood given to novelist Terry Pratchett for his work in highlighting the needs of dementia sufferers.

Dementia affects 5% of people over 65 and 20% of people over 80. Given that average life expectancy is increasing the probability of you and me suffering from this awful disease at some stage in our lives is increasing, yet it is easier to get Viagra on the NHS than it is to get drugs that slow the progress of dementia.

Hopefully the publicity that people like Suchet and Pratchett can bring to the condition will reduce the stigma of dementia and help move it up the priority list for research and treatment funding.

Use the following links for more information:

Pratchett demands increased funding

Understanding dementia - NHS web site

What is dementia? - The Alzheimer's Society

19 February 2009

The male-female brain debate

I took my kids to the science museum last weekend and they were very interested in the differences in their brains. The exhibit in the museum told us that male and female brains appear to wire up in different ways - a result of different hormones acting on the growing embryo. Some of these differences are apparent right from birth such as baby girls preferring to watch faces whereas baby boys watch everything equally. By school age, boys tend to be better at spacial skills, whereas girls are better at language skills. However no abilities are just male or female.
This started a fascinating debate on the tube on the way home. My 12 year old son announced that this made sense as his sisters are soft and sappy, and they couldn't make things work. My 10 and 6 year old girls responded as all siblings do, and I think very cleverly, that they make friendships work and people work together! Interesting perspective "out of the mouths of babes"
What do you think?

13 February 2009

Alcohol and the brain

During a recent training event we got into a discussion on the effects of alcohol on our mental processes - which parts of the brain were affected and in what order?

It brought to mind cases of people who through brain damage have lost the use of the cerebral parts on their brain. While they cannot remember anything for more than a few seconds, they are still able to dress themselves, walk, eat and communicate. This is not entirely unlike a person who has too much to drink and cannot remember getting home, yet wakes up in bed wearing their pyjamas with the house securely locked.

It therefore strikes me that alcohol affects the cerebral brain first and the limbic brain second. In the case of the limbic system we do know that when people die from alcohol poisoning it is because the part of the brain responsible for consciousness and respiration closes down. The person therefore lapses into a coma, stops breathing and dies.

The early signs are possibly when the limbic systems priorities take over. These are often described as; fighting, fleeing, feeding and reproduction. Perhaps this is why people are more flirtatious in pubs, why arguments and fights are often fuelled by alcohol and why people have an urge to raid the fridge when they get back from the pub.

What do you think?

06 February 2009

How to subscribe to the Brain Blog

The purpose of this entry is to explain the different ways in which you can be alerted to new entries and updates to the Brain Blog.

Email alerts

The best way to make sure that you are notified of updates is to add your email address to the notification list. This is a service provided by an organisation called FeedBurner, which is now owned by Google.

Once you have entered your email address in the subscription panel on the right hand side of the blog and clicked on the submit button you will directed to a conformation page where you will be asked to enter the wobbly text characters to complete your subscription.

You will then receive an email from FeedBurner with a link you will need to click on to complete the process.

Once you have done all of this you will then receive a maximum of one email per day with details of the latest entries. If there were no new entries in the previous 24 hours you will not receive an email.

If you want to stop the emails at any time you simply need to click on the unsubscribe link that appears at the bottom of each email.

Feed readers

An alternative is to display all blog updates on your browser home page. I use Google although I am sure that alternatives such as Yahoo are also very good.

Using this approach means that you are not bothered by yet more emails but you get to see any updates the instant you load your internet browser. If you subscribe to multiple bloggs it also has the advantage of enabling you to monitor all of them at once. For example, on my home page I also have feeds from the BBC and a feed from Twitter that monitors references to “brain dominance”.

If you do not currently have a service like this set up as your home page here’s how to set it up.

Begin by right clicking here and select the option “Open link in new window”. That way you will be able to jump back and forth between these instructions and the web page.

Select the service you would like to use from the drop-down box and then click on the subscribe button.

This will take you to your new (or existing if you already use this service) home page.

While you are on that page select the “Tools” option in your browser menu and use the option to set the current page to be your “Home page”.

From now on this page will appear whenever you start your Internet browser.

I hope this was helpful.

* Analytics tracking code