If you had a choice between happiness and your health, which would you pick?
According to happiness researcher Robert Holden, if you selected happiness, 65% of people agree with you. Many studies have posited that happiness (or even a positive outlook) can lead to more successful health outcomes. Holden tells us, “That’s because there’s no true health without happiness.”
The benefits of a positive outlook can transform the landscape of your life. For example, soldiers who displayed high optimism before deployment were less likely to develop chronic pain after being sent to Afghanistan or Iraq than those who were more pessimistic. (Reuters, Linda Carrol https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-military-pain/optimism-may-protect-against-chronic-pain-in-soldiers-idUSKCN1PX1W9). We also know that positive thinking improves physical health (https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-positive-thinking).
So how does one reach that giddy plain of Nirvana where state-of-mind is Kevlar-tough and a tropical “depression” can be weathered as easily as a light spring shower? In one study, “researchers found that the appreciation of life, new possibilities, and a patient’s own personal strength, greatly contributed to positive personal growth after a brain injury.” In other words, a brain injury survivor needs to be able to measure their own achievements against the backdrop of their rehabilitation journey.
[Note: Over the course of this journey, it may help to think of happiness as a “practice,” much like one must practice yoga or a musical instrument to achieve proficiency.]
Happily, Happify.com is a treasure trove of happiness research and mental exercises to keep all of us looking on the bright side of life. Here are three meme-able ones:
The S.T.A.G.E. Method
Use the S.T.A.G.E. framework outlined below to help you build five key happiness skills: Savor, Thank, Aspire, Give and Empathize.
Savor: As in savor the moment. Be mindful of all things possible.
Thank: Appreciate the things others do for you. Appreciate the things you’re able to do for yourself. Make sure to say “thanks.”
Aspire: Find a sense of purpose in your life. Find a positive reason to do what you do each day. Hope that you have the strength to do what needs to be done.
Give: People who engaged in acts of kindness showed a 42% increase in
happiness. ‘Nuff said.
Empathize: Care about others the way you want to be cared about.
“You have the power to take control of your happiness by choosing your thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Over time, we can build lasting habits that increase our resilience and improve our happiness levels.” (What is the Science of Happiness, Happify.com)
The Three Things Diary
Another simple, yet powerful method at developing a positive outlook and happiness is called the “Three Things Method.” While commonly employed in therapy, this exercise can be done independently by starting a “Three Things Diary.” Every day, you must write down the three things “that went well for you that day and provide an explanation for why they went well. The items can be relatively small in importance, such as “my co-worker bought me coffee today” to major, such as “I got a promotion!”
It is important to create a physical record of your items by writing them down; it is not enough simply to do this exercise in your head. On days you feel like you can’t do anything right or you couldn’t be more miserable – reference your diary. To make this exercise part of your daily routine, some people find that writing before bed is helpful. (https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/three-good-things)
Did You Know You’re Beautiful?
A little-known fact about happiness: it’s reflexive. When you give someone a compliment, BOTH of you enjoy the mental benefits. In “The Science of Happiness” podcast on PRI (https://www.pri.org/programs/science-happiness/these-words-cause-happiness), Eva Dickerson of Spellman University demonstrates one way to cultivate happiness socially. She approaches women on campus and asks, “Did you know that you’re beautiful?” to hear how happy she made others (and consequently, herself). By socially engaging with people, Eva is not only boosting her level of happiness, but her immune system and longevity. She also increased productivity, decreased stress, pain and insomnia, as well as, beneficial effects to the immune system and production of serotonin. (https://oaksatdenville.org/blog/benefits-social-interactions/)
The road through neuro rehab can be a long one after a patient suffers a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It’s natural to become depressed, frustrated and angry. But since we know that these reactions can negatively affect rehab outcomes, finding bits of cheer here and there can make all the difference in the world.
How can you cultivate happiness socially?
Domestic violence in the United States is far more common than anyone would care to admit: every day, three women are killed by current or former partners. For survivors, the abuse is often only the beginning – especially when it comes to head trauma. Due to underreporting, it’s impossible to know precisely, but it’s estimated that anywhere from 50-90% of domestic abuse survivors also sustain a traumatic brain injury.
These numbers are beyond shocking, regardless of the range, and they show that there is more than a causal relationship between abuse and traumatic brain injury.
What’s worse: survivors continue to be victimized by head trauma long after their physical scars have healed. Symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can manifest months or years later and have long-term ramifications. Post-concussion syndrome includes a variety of telling symptoms, including headaches, insomnia, blurry vision, dizziness, fatigue and memory problems among others.
Brain Injury In Domestic Violence Victims
Compounding the nightmare of abuse is that there can be major ramifications to not seeking immediate treatment for the head injury. Some victims never seek treatment at all, making brain injury a “silent epidemic” within the domestic violence epidemic.
In a 2016 review of domestic violence survivors by Glynnis Zieman, a neurologist at the Barrow Neurological Institute, she noted that only one-fifth of mostly female participants had sought treatment for their injuries.
Of that small group seeking treatment, 88% had endured more than one head trauma.
Violence Is a Cause and a Consequence of TBI
Domestic violence is far from the only social problem to result in traumatic brain injuries. However, it is unique in that violence can be both cause and consequence of the brain injury. “Specifically, TBI-related cognitive and behavioral problems can also result in aggressive behavior that leads to perpetration of violence, or a lack of insight and judgment and resulting vulnerability, that can lead to victimization. Depression after TBI can lead to an increased risk of self-inflicted injury, including suicide” (Oquendo et al., 2004).
Tips for Domestic Violence Help
The domestic violence problem in the United States isn’t going away. It’s vital to know the signs of abuse and to reach out to those who might need your help. If you are or have been a victim of abuse, it’s important to get medical care immediately to prevent future problems. There are plenty of domestic violence resources out there, no matter what situation you’re in.
If you know someone who needs help getting out of a bad domestic situation, offer to reach out to these resources on their behalf. They may be fearful of their abuser finding their browsing history or catching them on the phone with a domestic violence hotline.
Speak Up and Help Victims
Domestic violence continues when victims are silenced. We all need to be prepared to listen, ask questions and advocate for those who may not be able to speak up out of fear. Traumatic brain injury is just one of the ways that domestic violence changes the course of victims’ lives. Some victims have received so many head injuries, they’ve lost count. If abuse is allowed to continue over a period of years, the consequences can be severe. Speak up and help victims. Don’t let them suffer in silence. There are more than you think: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are likely to be affected by domestic violence at some point during their lives.
Did you know?
Sleep affects every aspect of our physical and mental health, yet we know woefully little about it. Sleep was still considered a “dormant state” in the 1950s. Thankfully, we know better now.
Much of our waking lives are dependent on sleep. For example getting enough sleep is tied to weigh loss, cognitive performance and cardio-vascular health. That’s why we’ve assembled this information about sleep so you can rest easy!
What is sleep?
Briefly, sleep is the body’s rest cycle . But really, it is so much more than that.
We sleep in 5 stages. They are known as stage 1 through 4 and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. You may be surprised to know that our brains are highly active through most of the night. As we sleep longer and longer, we progress through the stages until REM kicks in, which is when we dream. As we progress through the stages, the delta waves our brains produce slow down and the restorative aspect of sleep is multiplied. For feeling rested, stages 3 and 4 are the most important. In the final stage of sleep, REM, we reach our “shallowest” sleep, where our breathing and heart rate quicken to near waking levels, and our brains become more active.
Why do we sleep?
One hypothesis is that we feel drowsiness during the day because a chemical called adenosine builds up in our blood. Adenosine has a negative effect on the efficiency of neurons and chemical neurotransmitters. Sleeping breaks down adenosine, which is why when we wake up we feel rested. This is also why, when we don’t get enough sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt, or a build up of adenosine, to be paid off in full when our systems finally crash. People can grow accustomed to losing sleep, but reaction time, judgment and other capacities will not recover until a normal sleep schedule is resumed. 
Does being under anesthesia count as sleep?
People are said to be sleeping when they are under anesthesia (or are in a coma). This is not accurate. People in these states do not produce the patterns in brainwaves that sleeping people do, in fact their brainwaves are almost undetectable. 
Why does being sick make me tired?
Interestingly, the flu and other illnesses can make you sleepy. This is because cytokines, the proteins used in immune system response, interact with the neurons that affect sleep and sleep-related neurotransmitters. This means that when you’re fighting an illness your brain is receiving powerful sleep signals. Cytokines are also present in physically inflamed areas, explaining the fatigue you experience after an injury. 
How much sleep do we need?
As we age we need less and less sleep each night. An infant requires 16 hours, teenagers should get about 9 or 10 hours and adults should get between 7 and 8. Seniors tend to sleep even less. 
Why do we need sleep?
Sleeping is vital to our survival. Mortality rates increase dramatically as sleep deprivation builds. No death has been directly tied to a lack of sleep but we can see in cases of long term sleep deprivation from sleep apnea, insomnia or other sleep disorders, that risk of heart disease, attacks and failure, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes is increased.
When adenosine builds up in our system, our capacity for normal function is diminished, and our bodies’ ability to cope with stressors is diminished. As long as we are drowsy, our judgment, reaction time, and other corporeal operations (such as the immune system) are impaired. 
The regions of the brain that control emotions, decision-making and social interactions are dark during sleep. As sleep deprivation continues, math gets harder and eventually hallucinations and mood swings develop. These observations imply that sleep is needed for the normal functioning of day-to-day neural activity. To drive home the point: Approximately 100,000 car accidents, and 1,500 related deaths every year are attributed to driver fatigue. 
How do Traumatic Brain Injuries affect sleep?
Sleeping can be a more difficult proposition for people with TBIs. Up to 60% of people with brain injuries have life-long difficulties with sleep. The area of the brain that has been afflicted combines with the lack of sleep further exacerbates injury-related behaviors and poor cognition. The brain controls chemical messengers that make you drowsy and that tell you when to wake up. Brain injury can inhibit these functions, causing difficulty falling asleep, followed by post-traumatic hypersomnia which is a condition where people sleep far longer than normal.
There are a number of sleep conditions that arise more often in TBI survivors: Restless Leg Syndrome, Bruxism (the grinding or clenching of teeth at night), Periodic Limb Movement disorder and sleepwalking. 
Luckily the same practices that help uninjured brains sleep, also help injured brains! Our tips for better sleep are in the next section.
How can we sleep better?
Getting more sleep isn’t easy, especially with our hectic modern lifestyles and our global addiction to caffeine. Our diets and medications affect whether we feel awake or drowsy and the quality of our sleep. It’s important to know what’s what, so we did the legwork for you and have included some best practices for sleep:
The most common sleep supplement is a nightly Melatonin tab, which is the chemical our brain produces when its time to go to sleep and to keep you asleep. The production of this chemical is often inhibited by screen usage after dark and irregular sleep schedule. Doctors still warn against overuse as side effects are still largely unknown, and many supplements contain high dosages that potentially build up in the body. 
Chamomile Tea is a common sleep remedy that is often recommended in winter months.  Studies show it lets you sleep better at night and helps alertness during the day.
Not every sleep problem is solved with medications or “natural” supplements. Sometimes the best way to get more sleep is to be more mindful with your sleep routine:
What is bad for sleep?
Much of what we do during our modern day-to-day lives is bad for sleep. We are consuming new technologies, foods and chemicals every year and their effects on our sleep are an after thought, or wholly unknown. Here’s a brief list of things to avoid or moderate to get better sleep.
Now that we have learned about sleep and sleep hygiene we have the tools we need to improve our sleep. If you find yourself having trouble after following these tips please seek a doctor’s advice, as sleep is too important to ignore.
Get your sleep and sweet dreams!
Did you find this guide helpful? What’s your advice to improve sleep? What changes are you going to make? Comment below to let us know!
Managing chronic physical pain during addiction recovery is a challenge many doctors are rue to accept in the age of the opioid crisis.
That’s why it’s so important for someone with chronic pain to know how to handle their pain outside of a hospital or rehab environment. Opioids aren’t always the antidote for pain!
Many of the people who abuse drugs were initially prescribed opioids by a doctor. A patient walks in searching for a resolution to his pain and walks out with addictive pharmaceuticals like Vicodin and Hydrocodone. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 80% of current heroin addicts report that they first started using opiates with prescription painkillers. Yes, the meds can take away the pain, but unless the patient is properly prepared for the physical and psychological effects of opioids – these fast-acting meds can cause long-term destruction.
Some patients take their medications as prescribed. Others burn for more. Both quickly notice that a few hours without a dose brings a return to both the original pain (amplified by a factor of ten) AND the painful ignition of opioid withdrawal. Time is no friend to these patients. The longer they take opioids, the less relief they will derive. The longer they take opioids, the more dependence develops until they became physically and mentally addicted.
The solution to reducing the physical pain? Take more pills. Digging the proverbial hole of physical dependence deeper and deeper. In order to get off the pain medication, many patients will turn to opiate detox centers for help. These programs can help patients overcome the physical and mental withdrawals associated with prescription opioid dependence. Once the patient is no longer physically hooked, one huge unresolved issue remains: how to function with chronic pain while dealing with physical and emotional toll of sobriety?
Pain management in recovery is vital to sobriety. When chronic pain again rears its tireless head, users are at high risk of relapsing. Learning how to safely and naturally manage pain and sobriety minus narcotic painkillers is essential to a healthier, happier life.
There are numerous non-narcotic medications out there to treat physical pain that don’t risk physical addiction. These non-opioid medications may assist with the management of acute and chronic pain: Gabapentin, Duloxetine, Tricyclic, Naproxen, Acetaminophen, Amitriptyline, Norpramin, DexPak and Prelone are some of the most commonly prescribed. Each medication has different and highly-specific label and off-label uses. Patients should only take these medications as prescribed by a physician who is informed of the substance abuse difficulties. (Note: If YOU are that patient, then it is YOUR responsibility to inform the physician BEFORE any prescriptions are written.)
Manage Physical Pain in Sobriety
A common myth in our society is that only drugs can cure pain. Some organizations including The American College of Physicians, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend drug-free treatments as the first course of action for chronic pain.
Taking charge of yourself and doing activities like exercise, physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, distraction therapy, biofeedback, deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness training can do wonders. Work with your doctor to develop a flare-up protocol to follow whenever you feel a flare up spark.
Alternatives to Prescription Opiates
Millions upon millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain and addiction troubles. Some suffer from chronic headaches, others back pain. Some are recovering from surgery or have been sidelined by fibromyalgia. Every year hundreds of millions of opioid medications are dispensed to patients to help them cope with physical pain. Too many of these people will find themselves physically addicted to these pills or harmful street drugs. If you or a loved one are struggling with physical pain, investigate natural options before turning to narcotic pain pills as a solution.
For more information and resources regarding substance abuse help, visit Opiates.net the Life Skills Village Resource Links Page.
If you suffer with chronic pain and live in southeast Michigan, Life Skills Village offers a Pain Self-Management Program that teaches people how to manage their own pain.
Our physical, spiritual and mental lives are all connected to the brain. Since the brain is the “CPU” of our bodies, it is through the brain we experience every aspect of life. At Life Skills Village, we promote a holistic approach to traumatic brain injury rehabilitation. We believe keeping your brain healthy is vital – especially during neuro rehab. That’s why the upcoming series of blog posts focus on diet, exercise and sleep.
Eating right is the best way to ensure your brain and body receive the crucial nutrients that will nourish them during rehab. Your brain is only a small portion of your body weight, but it greedily gobbles up 20% of your metabolic energy. People who eat a healthy diet tend to live longer lives, enjoying better-than-average cognition and memory. Conversely, a poor diet is associated with a lower quality of life and diseases like "heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer," as reported by U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
How do we know what foods to eat and what foods to avoid? How do we make healthy changes to our diets? By categorizing the food we eat into nutrients that we know are good for the brain, it's easier to see how a healthy diet inspires a healthy, fulfilling life.
Magnesium is a dietary mineral with many psychological benefits and a deficiency is likely to result several side effects including increased general anxiety. There are a few reasons for this: magnesium activates Gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors in the brain whose purpose is to relax the brain and magnesium filters stress hormones like cortisol before they enter the brain. These stress hormones activate immune system messengers called cytokines that inflame the brain in an attempt to “heal” the stress. This autoimmune response doesn't work because there is no actual damage and can leave you with long-term memory problems. When these messengers are blocked, inflammation is reduced or prevented. Another physiological/chemical benefit of magnesium is that it binds with heavy metals in the body and carries them out. It is not known if this process is active in the brain, so it important to address the issue before the toxic elements collect. Studies have concluded that a magnesium supplement can help hypoglycemic individuals better maintain their blood sugar levels.
Magnesium could also bolster neuroplasticity, a process made mainstream by brain game apps such as Lumosity, which pairs well with cognitive rehabilitation because of its capacity to promote the creation of neural pathways and increase base-level serotonin. For this reason, magnesium may help alleviate depression without aggressive medication.
When these issues are addressed, it helps put the individual back in control; sleep is improved, stress is reduced, and focus and concentration are bolstered.
Magnesium should not be treated as a cure all, the research is not complete, and it should only taken in appropriate amounts. It has benefits but cannot solve your mental health issues on its own.
Sources of the best dietary sources of Magnesium.
These are the supplements to look for:
Protein is one of the 3 macronutrients essential to body and brain function. Protein is made up of many different amino acids, eight of which the body cannot produce on its own.
Diane Roberts Stoler, writer with Psychology Today, explains that if we don't get all eight in one meal, the proteins are broken down for energy rather than growth and repair and that "getting all eight together is most easily accomplished by eating animal products." However, it is possible to get complete proteins from non-animal products. Ask a registered dietician on how to best calculate your daily protein intake.
Protein can be acquired through powder supplements to be mixed into drinks. There are a lot of these out there and some are not good to use; be sure to research your protein shake before you buy and consume them regularly.
Dietary sources of Protein:
Folate (also known as vitamin B9 and folic acid depending on where it's found - folate is in food, folic acid is in supplements) is critical to healthy brain and body function. After being digested and absorbed it becomes methylfolate, which is essential for the brain's production of DNA and neurotransmitters.
Folate is also crucial for women attempting to get pregnant or who are already pregnant. During pregnancy: 400 micrograms per day are recommended. During lactation, 500 micrograms per day. This is especially important one month before trying to get pregnant and within 21 days of conception. Refer to our sources for more complete information. The National institute of Health has a list of recommended folate intake.
Good food sources of Folate:
Vitamin D is synthesized in our skin when it comes into contact with sunlight. However, because of our lack of contact with sunlight during winter, Americans are often Vitamin D deficient. Symptoms of this deficiency include bone pain, muscle weakness, seasonal depression and a study in the UK found evidence of impaired cognition. If a physician diagnoses a deficiency, it is important you take the active forms of Vitamin D: Calcitriol or Vitamin D3. While it is found in many foods, 10-20 minutes of direct sunlight will produce more Vitamin D in our bodies than a day’s worth of food. As we age your body is less efficient at producing the vitamin, so it is important to include in your diet and daily supplements.
Tips for supplementation: magnesium helps increase effectiveness of absorption. A safe amount of Vitamin D to include in your diet is 400 IUs for infants, 600 IUs for adults and 800 IUs for seniors.
Good sources of Vitamin D:
Antioxidants are in many fruits and vegetables, and can be made into supplements. They also have varying effects on brain and body function. Vitamin E has been shown to ward off depression; Vitamin C is linked to reduced incidents of stroke and enhances skin healing; and Vitamin A is good for eye health and cholesterol. All Antioxidants are used in the body's natural response to reactive compounds called free radicals (pollution, smoke, UV light). This process is useful because it helps preserve our cells in the presence of these irritants. They are also an anti-inflammatory, which is associated with reducing pain, preventing neuro degenerative disease and cardiovascular disease.
Flavonoids, carotenoids, and other phytonutrients are responsible for the bright coloring in fruits and vegetables. There are over 6,000 different types make up the largest group of phytonutrients, and are powerful antioxidants to seek out.
Antioxidants to look for in your food and supplements:
Various antioxidants can be found in these foods:
Healthy Fats (yes, they exist) are necessary for proper brain function, considering the brain runs on 60% fat. In utero and as we mature, our brains use fat to grow membranes, myelin sheaths and other structures. These are important to protect neurons and axons. The brain never stops needing fat to function and it will utilize available fats should the correct ones not be available. Omega 3 EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) fats are what the brain craves and allows it to function at peak performance. Heather Pratt, with Natural Grocers, postulates that these omega 3 fats are correlated with "neurotransmitter production and function, meaning... serotonin and dopamine (the chemicals in our brain that control happiness) absorption is improved [by omega 3 fats],” and that helps stabilize mood as well as stress response.
Healthy fats have a wide variety of positive body outcomes. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats raise good cholesterol while lowering the bad. Omega-3 and omega-6 are good for the brain and skin.
Good fats to find in better food and supplements:
Good sources of healthy fats:
Vitamin K is known for its benefits to the circulatory system like improving bone health, reducing inflammation, and increasing blood flow. all of which helps improve cognitive function. The Vitamin comes in two varieties: K1 and K2. K1 is important to blood coagulation and is stored in the liver. K2 is more active around the body, and does everything mentioned above. Watch out for MK-4 and MK-7 on supplement labels, as those are the forms of Vitamin K2 that should ingest.
Good sources of Vitamin K:
Collagen production in our bodies declines as we age, making it important later in life to boost your collagen intake. It is usually known for its role in joints, cartilage and muscle, but it has also been shown to protect brain-cells from amyloid-beta proteins known to cause Alzheimer's disease. Watch out specifically for Collagen VI as it has been researched in these Alzheimer's findings.
Good sources of Collagen:
We wouldn't need good nutrition articles if we didn't have bad nutrition! Here are the bad things in food to avoid:
Trans fats are guaranteed to age your brain should they be consumed frequently. This quote by Psychology Today, describes it best: "Trans fats can lead to serious health complications including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, low birth rate, obesity and immune dysfunction. They also have serious consequences on brain health.” Look for partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the ingredients list to know which items to avoid.
Avoid these foods, especially if packaged and store-bought:
Saturated Fats can be tolerated in amounts higher than trans fats but will still show the same raised levels of bad cholesterol and cognitive decline over time.
Saturated fats can be found in these food products:
Sugar, syrups and simple carbs cause obesity, metabolic syndrome and an assortment of other disorders and diseases that arise from those conditions. Studies have shown that high fructose corn syrup, a cheap sugar alternative, hampers cognitive ability, slowing down memory and learning. It is believed that this is because the test subjects (rats) developed insulin resistance which inhibited insulin's ability to regulate stored sugar for brain function.
Foods to avoid with High Sugars:
Mercury is a neurotoxin. It is found in seafood and can accumulate if eaten too regularly. After being ingested, or inhaled, mercury is stored in the kidneys, blood, liver, spleen, brain, fatty tissue, and bones. It is known to inhibit the development of babies’ brains, hearts, and circulatory systems in utero. It is a known cause for several types of cancer, can cause neurological and behavioral disorders, and can change neuromuscular activity.
Do not touch it with bare skin, avoid being in closed spaces with it, and do not eat it.
Foods to avoid with Mercury in them:
Brominated Vegetable Oil (Or Bromide) is a chemical used in citrus sodas to help keep flavor syrups from separating from the water. Bromide can also produce a sedative effect on the brain. It can replace the neurotransmitters that neurons use to communicate.This is a problem because the dosage for sedation is close to the dosage for toxicity, and the amount used in soda can be toxic to a person addicted to soda.
Drinks to avoid with Brominated Vegetable Oil:
There is a lot to consider when it comes to your brain health but the task of diet improvement doesn’t have to be daunting. With a few tweaks here and there over time your new habits will keep you healthy! Sign up for notifications from the blog to find out when we post the next part of our series “Brain Healthy!” What is your favorite super food? What would you like us to cover next?
This list is incomplete, and I am not a registered dietician. Research your nutrients before changing your lifestyle, and ask your doctor before changing your diet if you have digestive disorders or immune system deficiencies.
*General food sources: Draxe, EatThis
*Magnesium fact sources: BeBrainFit, Ancient-Minerals, Draxe
*Protein fact sources: PsychologyToday
*Folate fact sources: AuthorityDiet, PsychologyToday
*Vitamin D fact sources: Webmd, ScientificAmerican, PsychologyToday, ReadersDigest
*Vitamin E fact sources: Life-Enhancement
*Antioxidant Fact sources: Livescience, EveryDayHealth
*Healthy Fat Fact Sources: Greatist, NaturalGrocers, Draxe
*Vitamin K Fact Sources: EverydayHealth, Medlineplus
*Collagen Fact Sources: NewBeauty, ScienceDaily
*Trans Fat Fact Sources: IVLProducts, PsychologyToday
*Saturated Fat Fact Sources: IVLProducts
*Sugar Fact Sources: IVLProducts
*Mercury Fact Sources: GlobalHealingCenter, GreenFacts
*Brominated Vegetable Oil Fact Sources: ChemistryWorld
Brain Games are a recent upload to the modern digital milieu. Most are made for mobile formats. Some are surprisingly enjoyable. All of these apps endeavor to improve cognition, lower your mental age or improve focus by playing a variety of short games. Users are scored according to performance in each game and receive alerts intended to encourage consistency.
It's only natural that brain games have become a useful tool, perhaps nowhere more-so than in field of neuro rehabilitation. When a person experiences a brain injury, they inevitably suffer cognitive deficits. But they can still recapture some of their former attention, memory and focus through hard work on multiple fronts.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to adapt to change within the duration of a single lifetime. This process allows for damaged areas of the brain to pass along their responsibilities to other parts of the brain. Playing certain brain games on a very regular basis can "assist neurons during their hunt for a way around the obstructing injury." Repetition of both actions and games over time can help the survivor's brain facilitate and strengthen a neuroplastic response.
There are many useful applications designed for TBI survivors. These can be used as an extension of the mind; for example, reminder systems and note taking apps. Brainline.org compiled a large list of apps that can prove to be life changing for TBI Survivors including some of the apps on this list. You can read their list here. Our list focuses on just brain games that could prove useful during rehabilitation.
A very usable app with lots of variety, reminders, statistic tracking and pleasing, minimalist interface. When you first boot up the app you immediately notice that the interface is all about much options and self-motivation. The makers of Lumosity are very transparent about wanting you to upgrade to their paid "premium" version. This is one brain game that keeps some of your stats under wrap. Or, at least behind a pay wall. The interface displays your current cognition scores for speed, memory, attention, flexibility, problem solving and math ability.
On the other hand, the games themselves are quite easy to understand and usually fun. An article from Businessinsider.com takes an in-depth look at exactly how beneficial these games really are, noting that "specific populations [of people]... have shown some improvements in memory and executive function after Lumosity-like brain training." They are referring to differently abled individuals. This is in contrast to non-concussed people, who would improve in their ability to perform a specific task, yet not show improvement in their general cognition.
This one is subscription based. More available games than any other app on this list. Also, it is the most expensive.
Compatible with Android, and iOS.
Very similar to Lumosity in that it uses brain games, reminders and score features, but presented differently. Of the apps on this list, I find the games most stimulating visually and conceptually, and give the added bonus of being informational. These games practice skills that are relevant to daily activities like quickly calculating percentages, estimating price, and reinforcing correct spelling and grammar. Similarly the stats it collects are presented less as attributes of cognition and more of practical ability. This means it gives you writing, listening, speaking, reading and math scores and graphs them for you to see your progress.
This app guides you through the process of selecting and participating in activities. You will receive reminders that regularly track your progress. However, some of these games may prove frustrating or too difficult for some clients.
Paying their subscription fee allows you to play more games, and unlocks more performance statistics. Elevate is cheaper than Lumosity, and offers a more polished experience. The drawback is that Elevate doesn't have as many activities. Of this group I'd be most likely to pay for this one and you still get a lot for free.
Compatible with Android, and iOS.
Unique concept that takes its tenets and encourages users to internalize them and "practice" away from your phone. Happify's purpose (and mantra) revolve around positivity, happiness, and mindfulness. At Life Skills Village we use these same concepts in our TBI day program. Using Happify feels like meditation and helps to reframe your thinking; Happify is worth checking out. It's a refreshing mix of in-app mini-games, self-reflection techniques and real-life applications that makes for an interesting experience. This app helps you track your goals and progress - it even and asks you questions about your actions! Happify offers periodic checks-ins and a happiness assessment (so you know how happy you really are).
For all the positive vibes you get on this app, it can feel gimmicky at times. That said I am quite optimistic about positive outcomes and can't recommend this app enough. However, take note: the free version is restrictive and slow.
The subscription fee is the same as Lumosity's. and the app itself does not use any ads.
Download: iOS, Android
Fit Brains Trainer
Polished product with a decent variety of games available in the free version. Games can be somewhat derivative from other products (in some cases the only difference is color), but at least these are available in groups of five per day rather than the three that is standard from the big names. The product is no cheaper than others and the statistics offered aren't very in depth and are almost exactly the same as Lumosity's. I would have said that this one offers the most activities for free, but after five sessions the game locks up and you cannot continue training for free. Lumosity is probably a better option.
Download Here: iOS, Android
This is the first of the group that does not request you pay a subscription, instead it has one time charges for optional features, like removing ads, or their brain currency that makes the app easier. It is most likely entirely funded by ads, which are ubiquitous in the app. The lower your game score, the more ads you see. Skillz has a minimum viewing time as well. The upside is that you are not limited by how many games you want to play per day and can retry each game as much as you like. The games are somewhat low visual quality and unforgiving; however it's completely free and still offers the cognitive training desired. The app even tries to have a sense of humor and, for what it's worth, it helps you get through the games.
Downloads: iOS, Android
This app has both ads (a one time charge for removing ads) and add in-game currency (though at three dollars it's one of the cheapest on the list). The free version is not as restrictive as Elevate, Lumosity or Brain Fit. It's a happy medium that has many of the same games as other apps but doesn't lock them behind a pay wall, but rather a progression wall. So to play other games you have to play games! Smart offers no progress metrics and makes no specific claims about brain training. It just offers the same type of games as other well known brain training apps, and lets you play as much as you'd like. Its layout and transaction scheme is similar to the Skillz app, though a bit more polished.
Download Here: Android, iOS
Brain it on!:
The most unique entry in this list, Brain it on! is a series of puzzles that you solve by drawing shapes. It's a relatively simple concept and all of it sticks to the basic principles, but they extrapolate these ideas and keep adding and adding until the game becomes very difficult. Thankfully they offer hints (behind ad videos). The free version also has you unlock levels by playing other levels kind of like an early Mario game. The app does not offer progress metrics, but does award pleasing little stars and shows you how many you've earned. People with limited hand dexterity may find this outside their abilities, but it offers enough engaging content that I'd recommend it to people who wish to improve their hand-eye coordination.
The premium version is a one-time fee of $3, and removes all ads, unlocks all hints, and unlocks all levels.
Download Here: Android, iOS
The Ideal Brain Game for Brain Injury
This list was written to give a brief rundown of the most popular brain games currently on the market. Each app has its merits - be they functional or economical. My personal favorite has been Elevate, but I am biased because I had used it before, and opted in to the "pro" free trial.
The ideal brain game app would have vast scaling potential and variability. It would track a TBI survivor's cognition and offer a tracking system to show how the user has improved over time. Statistics like these are useful to the subject because they provide a sense of pride and accomplishment, but can be useful to a provider who might integrate this information into their treatment.
What do you think about brain games? What's your favorite?
With the NFL "Concussion" scandal beginning to fade from public consciousness, it's easy to forget that traumatic brain injuries are still a serious problem. A traumatic or acquired brain injury can change your life in an instant - whether you're playing pro football, fall off a ladder or get injured on the job. People with brain injuries know first-hand - life is different post-injury.
In the interest of raising awareness, we're using this blog to highlight celebrities who have survived traumatic brain injuries and what they've taken from the experience. If you have survived a TBI, we encourage you to share your story - and what you've taken from the experience - at the end of this post.
Gary Busey suffered a TBI in 1998. Best known for his roles in Lethal Weapon, Point Break and Predator 2, he crashed his motorcycle while not wearing a helmet. Busey fractured his skull and spent two months in the hospital. In an interview one year after the accident on The Tonight Show with David Lettermen he discusses how the accident changed his personal life, shifted his perspective on the world and informed his philanthropic endeavors. He has worked to raise $400,000 for muscular dystrophy and advocated for a skill tests that could result in required helmet use on motorcycles. Busey readily admits that his TBI caused him to act impulsively and has significantly lowered his "mental filters." Letterman even jokes "you're funnier now."
Busey has remained active professionally, maintained a populated filmography and capitalized on his well-known, unique demeanor. Despite his TBI, he was able to continue his acting career, raise a son and even become a major proponent for Brain Injury Awareness. He won $40,000 on the Celebrity Apprentice in 2011 and donated all of it to the Center of Head Injury Services in Missouri.
Steve Young was the San Francisco 49er's quarterback from 1987 to 1999. He suffered a minimum of 6 concussions over the course of his career. He retired early after a tackle by Aeneas Williams left him unconscious on the field for several minutes. Since then he's been an advocate for concussion awareness, prevention and protection. Young even created a collaborative infotainment page on YouTube discussing the prevalence of concussive risk for every player in every sport, the symptoms of a concussion, the risks of returning to the field while concussed, the effect age has on concussion recovery and severity, and what to do if you've been concussed. The mantra of the video is "When in doubt, sit it out."
On June 7th, 2014, A Wal-Mart semi-truck crashed into six cars, putting Tracy Morgan in a coma for eight days and killing his long-time friend James McNair. His recovery was long and arduous. Months later he still required a wheelchair for taking more than "some steps." In September 2015 he made a surprise appearance at the Emmy's, where he shared his first-hand TBI experiences. Using comedy and emotion, he told us that he was starting to feel like himself again. Backstage he shared that he "couldn't walk" and had to relearn "how to stand up and sit down again." Unfortunately, despite improving by leaps and bounds, "Tracy will never fully be himself again" and his therapy has no end date.
Tracy has since returned to showbiz. He's been welcomed back by Saturday Night Live, appeared in three films and has released a new standup special, "Tracy Morgan: Staying Alive." He is an active philanthropist supporting causes like Drug Abuse, HIV/AIDS and disaster relief.
Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona House Representative from 2007 to 2012, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury from an attempt on her life at a public speaking event at a Safeway near Tucson. The gunman shot her in the head at point blank range and then opened fire on the crowd. Thirteen people were injured and six people were killed including Federal Judge John Roll, and nine-year-old girl Christina-Taylor Green. Here is the NBC report from the day of the incident.
A year into recovery, Giffords resigned from her seat in the house of representatives to dedicate herself to rehabilitation. Here is her resignation letter. In the years following, she championed gun control, founded "American's for Responsible Solutions," which is now known as Giffords. They campaign in congress and have worked to pass legislation that takes guns out of the hands of high-risk individuals.
Mark Kelly, Gabrielle's husband, put it best when he addressed the would-be assassin: "Mr. Loughner, you may have put a bullet through her head but you have not put a dent in her spirit and her ability to do good."
In 2017 she became the third living woman to see have a Navy Warship named in her honor. She fights the good fight and in spite of her injury she is an American hero.
A helmet saved Kevin Pearce's life, but the incident still left him with a Traumatic Brain Injury. He was a professional snowboarder and had his accident while practicing a maneuver called the "cab double cork" on a half pipe. He was preparing to compete against Shaun White for a spot on the US Olympic Snowboarding team. His injury was very severe and cost him his independence, his voice, career and ability to walk.
Pearce's rehabilitation was extensive and he had the support of his family and friends, but he attributes his successful and ongoing recovery to his competitive nature. He will never compete again, but has been able to safely return to recreational snowboarding. He also co-founded a non-profit called Love Your Brain dedicated to raising awareness and improving the quality of life for people with brain injuries and those with Down Syndrome people.
Kevin is very active in the world of brain injury and works very hard to educate and inspire people. Here he is leading a TED talk about TBIs, and this is his website if you'd like to know more about him and his causes.
Kevin Pearce said it best in his TEDx Talk, "a brain injury is like a fingerprint, no two are the same." Evidenced here through these wonderful stories is the fact that TBIs are the hardest thing a person can experience, but that also, to an extent, many of these injuries can be overcome. Their accomplishments are inspiring, and are proof that a new best self can be reached.
Do you have a personal story of surviving a brain injury? We welcome you to share those stories with us below.
Imagine that you wake up one morning to discover that you are in a foreign country. Everyone – including your friends and family – speaks a different language. Their language is as incomprehensible to you as yours is to them.
Now imagine that you just enjoyed a dinner with friends and had one too many drinks. You wake up in the morning and realize that not only did you fail to sober up – you never will. You will continue to be disoriented, dizzy and off-balance; impulsivity and dis-inhibition will define your behavior; your affect will alternate between inappropriately jovial and incongruously aggressive. Absent your normal inhibitions, you say and do things with no insight into your own behavior.
Take a moment to mentally fuse both scenarios. Now picture this state lasting for a minimum of two years. Or even for the rest of your life. Your loved ones may attempt to care for you, but it isn’t long before your behavior alienates both family and friends. Maybe even your children. You can no more hold a job than you could wish yourself better. You find yourself isolated, inconsolable and without immediate access to your usual emotions, memories and coping skills.
This may sound like a nightmare, but the reality is that there is a very real possibility of a head injury turning into a lifelong disability. How often have you heard the phrase, “I never thought it could happen to me?” I hear it dozens of times each week. As long as you drive a motor vehicle, you and your loved ones stand a chance of becoming victims.
You don’t have to suffer a catastrophic accident to acquire a brain injury. Experiencing rapid deceleration can cause your brain to slam into the front and back of your skull – this is called a contrecoup event and is one of the most common injuries resulting from an auto accident. Even minor injuries can damage billions of neurons and effect large parts of your brain. Unlike most physical injuries, a trauma to the brain is invisible – which makes it extremely unlikely that you will be afforded any sympathy for the behaviors we discussed earlier.
Instead, you will be held responsible for your behavior. You will become a victim of your brain’s inability to function properly. You may become a pariah, a social outcast unable to relate and unable to have other people relate to you. Soon, you enter into a world of pervasive loneliness. What’s more, the brain does not heal in a predictable fashion. Symptoms may vanish within six months or last a lifetime. The severity of a brain injury bears no correlation to the length of recovery time. Even a minor fender bender or fall with no visible physical injury can result in behavioral and cognitive deficits that have profound social and occupational consequences.
I was taught that the best moral compass for compassionate care was to treat patients as I would members of my own family. When we’re able to step into the shoes of a survivor, some things become very clear. People with brain injuries want:
· The basic respect afforded to anyone
· To be treated like an individual, not an injury or constellation of
· The dignity of being allowed input into a treatment plan
· Acknowledgement that they still have goals and ambitions
· To socialize with family, friends and to meet others
· A chance to be happy, fulfilled and find purpose
· A chance to realize true independence
We should all do our best to acknowledge their humanity, as well as their wants and needs.
The Pain Self-Management Program: Learn to Control Chronic Pain and Re-Discover Your Life by Drew Bufalini
I’ve had chronic pain for twelve years. I’ll spare you the grisly details. Suffice it to say that after years struggling to be “normal,” I lost everything, nearly everyone and wound up on disability living with my parents.
Today, despite the fact that my health conditions have gotten worse, I’ve moved out of my folk’s place, have a very fulfilling (and accommodating) job; a wonderful (and understanding) girlfriend; and even a smidgeon of a social life (yes, I’m counting visits to sick relatives and work functions).
I became an expert on pain. I devoured every book I could find on the subject. I scavenged the web. I interviewed doctors and fellow patients. I endeavored to exercise. I altered my diet numerous times. I learned to meditate. I volunteered to build up my endurance so I could return to work. I even launched a support group at my local hospital with the help of the American Chronic Pain Association.
To one degree or another, it took each of those efforts working in concert for me to overcome pain and live a purposeful, functional life again. Anyone who knows me will tell you, my pain is far from gone. But it no longer controls my life.
Today, I’m proud to announce that Life Skills Village - the company that first took a chance on me as a volunteer and then again to lead its marketing department – is launching a holistic, chronic pain self-management program. The goal is to turn patients into pain experts and provide the tools to self-manage their chronic pain (beyond simply taking medication).
The curriculum, developed by Dr. Bryan Weinstein (neuropsychiatrist) and Dr. David Cowan (neuropsychologist), is designed to augment any pain physician’s care.
Our psychologists and occupational therapists concentrate on skills pain patients can use every day – like developing a flare-up plan, adaptive exercise, mindfulness, meditation, using biofeedback, improving sleep, managing pain behaviors and improving relationships to name a few.
None of this is as easy as it sounds. Not with chronic pain. To control pain means understanding and accepting it as well as having the courage to tackle it head on. It means keeping an open mind to the therapies introduced. It means managing expectations. Because even though the program meets only once a week for twelve weeks, this will take time. Give yourself permission to try the pain self-management program because it beats the hell out of spending life stuck in a recliner.
The truth about chronic pain is that it will not go away on its own. Nobody wakes up one day magically cured, ambulatory and cheerful. Pain robs what little control we have in our lives and leaves us dangling over a terrifying abyss of uncertainty. Isolating yourself at home will not help you feel better. Self-medication only lengthens the road to recovery. The only way out of the pain labyrinth is to make a daily effort (no matter how small). We can help you take those first steps beyond chronic pain.
Chronic pain may force us to become victims, but we don’t have to stay that way. The Pain Self-Management Program starts in September. Contact me to get started.
Note: Life Skills Village happily accepts clients and other people of all religions and political persuasions. We encourage others to live well and to help each other - regardless or race, creed, color or sex - as Brother Williams suggests here:
I kneel to pray when the day was done and prayed ‘Oh, Lord bless everyone’
Lift from each heart the pain, and let the sick be well again
And then I woke one day, and carelessly I went on my way
But the whole day long, I did not try, to wipe a tear from anyone’s eye
I did not even try to share the load of my brothers or sisters there on the road
I did not even go to see, the sick man just next door to me
But yet once again, when the day was done I kneeled and prayed ‘Oh Lord bless everyone’
But as I prayed, to my ears it came, a voice whispering clear
The voice told me, precious hypocrite before you pray, whom have you tried to bless today?
God’s sweetest blessing it always go by hand we serve Jesus here below
And then I hid my face and cried, I said, “Forgive me, Lord, for I have lied.’
Let me but live another day and I will live the way that I pray.
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About the Doc
Dr. Bryan Weinstein is a practicing psychiatrist with certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He has practiced psychiatric pharmacology and psychotherapy since 1997. Dr. Weinstein is the CEO of Life Skills Village.