Monday, January 31, 2011

Improve Your Memory by Building a Memory Palace

At the World Memory Championships, top competitors memorize the order of 20 shuffled decks of cards in an hour and more than 500 random digits in 15 minutes, among other events. Think you have what it takes? Believe it or not, almost everybody has the capability to perform such amazing feats. Competitive memorizers don’t necessarily have “better memories" than the rest of us; instead, they learn and perfect a variety of mnemonics (memory aids) to improve their ability to quickly learn and recall just about anything. One of the most useful and widely used mnemonics is the memory palace, a place or series of places in your mind where you can store information that you need to remember. With time and practice, anyone can build a memory palace, and they are useful for far more than just memory competitions and trivia. Here’s how to build your own:
 Published in the US - 1895, US Playing Card Co...Image via Wikipedia
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alpha Lipoic Acid, Smell and Memory

I have just ordered Alpha lipoic acid as per my doctor's suggestions to improve my sense of smell. Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) has a number of interesting properties besides improving the sense of smell. ALA also improves memory by helping nerve regeneration among other things. It would be nice to hit two birds with one stone. Red meat and vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and other green leafy vegetables like collard greens or chard are good sources of ALA.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Awwww Fugedaboutit!!

You can tell I live in the NorthEast with a title like that.  No one else in the country bellows Fugadeaboutit in quite the same way.  We're a bit more, how shall I say it, salt of the earth.   At any rate, somehow it is fitting to begin this post in a round a bout way considering how the day went. 
 Working memory modelWorking Memory Image via Wikipedia
This morning, I wanted to write about my last day of Brain Fitness and my final scores including the ones on memory.  I went to grab the scrap of paper upon which I had written my scores and I found that I had lost it!  Boy, do I feel dumb.

I am not sure what it was... whether it was the end of doing a lot of cognitive therapy that has worn me out or a reflection of my scores:

Game    Targeted Skill    Improvement    Final Score
Hi Lo     Processing Speed    71%   
Tell Us Apart    Discriminating Sounds    36%    16420
Match It    Sound Precision    26%    25144
Sound Replay    Sound Sequencing    9%   
Listen & Do    Working Memory    0%   
Story Teller    Narrative Memory    39%    6020

Hi Lo
Finished the game.
My Total Score for "Hi Lo" is about 51000.   In this regard, my hearing has improved by 72%!!!

Tell Us Apart

Level 14    Baa/Daa, Boe/Doe, Bu/Du*
Level 13    Deh/Geh, Dah/Gah, Baa/Paa
Level 12    Doe/Toe, Sheh/Cheh
Level 11    Gee/Kee, Sah/Stah

Regressed to Level 11/12 at the End

Match It:
 Right now, I am at Speech Processing Level 5. I can do 30 grids for all sounds at Level 5

Story Teller
 I've done all the stories at all Speech Levels and answered the questions pretty well. My total Score is 6020.

Sound Replay
 Usually, I can get 5 sounds in order and I am at Level 4 out of 5.  My best was getting 6 sounds in order. My total score is 11650.

Listen and Do

 Type of Click/Move    Level    Number of Instructions
Easy Click    5    6
Harder Click    5    6
Easier Move    4    2
Harder Move    4    3

I am pretty happy about my processing speed.  But, I am not too happy about my working memory:  neither from my scores where I really didn't improve it or from my behavior!  I spent the day feeling a bit blue that I didn't get too far with my memory.

But, tomorrow is another day.  There are other programs out there that improve working memory.  We'll see what my audiologist has to say about this.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

That's All She Wrote On the Tummy

Saw the head of Gastroenterology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for a second opinion on my tummy troubles.  He doesn't think I have malabsorption.  He will look into why my MCH and MCV values are slightly higher than normal.  I don't drink much since my tummy won't tolerate it and these values have been elevated since childhood so it's not alcohol related.

As far as the B12, it's a bit indeterminate since I didn't get a blood test before I upped the supplements.  He sees no harm in me continuing. For the D12 deficiency, he thinks it doesn't have anything to do with the GI tract.  At our latitudes, it's more about getting adequate sunshine.   He verifies that I have done all the standard tests: colonoscopy, endoscopy, capsule endoscopy.  These all have shown nothing.  Had a discussion about wheat/dairy intolerance that verified laying off the stuff is probably not a bad thing in terms of keeping tummy happy.  No answer on fat malabsorption.  So no more tests.

diagram of a human digestive systemDigestive TractImage via Wikipedia
As far as a link between neurological problems and GI system, he feels that there is "fledgling science" to the notion that bacteria malfunctions in the digestive tract have some relationship to autism and neurological problems, but he won't take that notion into clinical practice, at this time.

In terms of managing my neurological problems, he thinks I am "doing all the right things".  So, there.  I have the good housekeeping seal of approval on my therapies.

Thus spake medical orthodoxy.
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Funny: For We Like Sheep!

I just wanted to pass along a funny.

As many of you know, I have been listening to songs as my hearing has been getting better and I have been trying to figure out what has changed and what has stayed the same.
George Frideric Handel, by Balthasar Denner (d...Image via Wikipedia
I put on Handel's Messiah and listened to the aria: "For We're Like Sheep".  Well, to me it still sounds like "For We Like Sheep"!  I don't think that's what Handel meant.

I mentioned this to my audiologist and she got a kick out of it.  She used to record with the Pittsburgh symphony and mentioned that a lot of recordings sound this way unless the director has made an explicit effort to make the singers enunciate clearly.  She was pretty amused.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Head Strong Brain Health

Strengthening your brain makes it healthier. 
 PET scan of a normal human brainPet Scan of the BrainImage via Wikipedia
An Australian company, Headstrong, with the eminent Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg as founder, has developed a "cognitive gym".  Unlike strictly software programs like Brain Fitness from Posit Science, Headstrong offers an integrated program of:
  • Diet Discover the foods you'll love to eat that also help your brain function.
  • Physical Exercise – Find out which exercises are best for optimizing your brain's growth.
  • RetirementLearn how retirement planning can be beneficial for your brain.
  • Helpful Hints – To improve your everyday brain performance.
  • Strategies & Tips – To enhance your memory, learning and quality of life. 
Posit Science does recognize the benefits of diet and exercise but doesn't offer a complete program.  Headstrong offers coaching as well. 

If you are living in Australia, you can go to a Headstrong clinic.  But, for us folk in the US, we will can access a limited beta trial of his program at  I think I will do this in a little while after I finish doing some auditory therapy.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Food industry FAIL

 Foods promoted as healthy for kids—surprise!—are mostly not.  

MyPyramid -- Steps to a Healthier YouImage via WikipediaThe "Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children's Food" [PDF] study examined over 50 products that food companies advertise as their healthiest for children -- "Smart Choices" was but one front-of-package label of many others still in use. In the spirit of fairness, the study authors didn't go looking for crap food: they selected products from an industry-created list that was part of its own "Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative," which selects products the industry has itself determined to meet good nutritional standards. From that list, the study authors then selected products with some type of "healthier for you" front-of-package labels and analyzed them using nutritional standards based on the National Academy of Science's 2005 "Dietary Guidelines for Americans."
The researchers concluded that in fact, 84 percent of those products did not meet these basic nutritional standards.
Some highlights:
  • More than half (57 percent) of the study products qualified as high sugar, and an astonishing 95 percent of products contained added sugar.
  • More than half (53 percent) were low in fiber.
  • More than half (53 percent) of products did not contain any fruits or vegetables; of the fruits and vegetables found, half came from just two ingredients -- tomatoes and corn.
  • 24 percent of prepared foods were high in saturated fats.
  • More than one-third (36 percent) of prepared foods and meals were high in sodium.
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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Organization - How To Organize Your Life and Space

Here's a collection of ways to better organize yourself.  With Executive Dysfunction, you end up trolling through different systems hoping for the silver bullet.

5 simple ways to Get and Stay OrganizedCover of Cover of Organize Yourself
3 Health Benefits of Being Organized
How to De-Clutter Your Home Organizing Your Home Free of Negativity
Now, if only I could just get organized to get organized!
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Friday, January 21, 2011

Neurofeedback Goes Mass Market

I have always thought of neurofeedback as something custom tailored to you, but apparently not.  Brain State Technologies is going mass market with neurofeedback by opening franchises throughout the country.  Yup, franchising, the same technique that spread MacDonald's hamburgers throughout the land is bringing neurofeedback to your neighborhood.   I am seeing people other than neuropsychologists/neuropsychiatrists do neurofeedback:  it is showing up in chiropractor's offices as well.  In fact, to my knowledge, you don't need to have a professional credential to be a Brain State franchisee.  Just pass their in-house training course and get a credential and you are good to go.

Brain State is flogging its technologies for everything from Addiction, Aging, Anger, Brain Injury, Hyperactivity, Lack of Energy, Learning Difficulties, Panic Attacks, Sadness and Trauma.  They claim to help athletes achieve peak performance, artists, musicians and ceos become more creative, and a variety of other people solve their problems.

An EEG (electroencephalograph) 1 second sample...EEG Gama WaveImage via Wikipedia
If relaxing is seriously difficult for you, you might want to try neurofeedback—using readings of brain energy to teach your mind to unwind. (There are neurofeedback practitioners all over the United States; for a directory, go to You'll be hooked up to an EEG—a device that measures brain activity through electrodes attached to your scalp. Then, using visual and auditory cues such as a video game, you'll train yourself to regulate your brain to help you slow down. (For example, when your brain waves start making a race car speed up, it means you're learning how to move into a more relaxed state.) "Over time a client learns how to achieve the desired state without the visual feedback," says Martin Batty, who has used the method with success in clinical studies (though he notes that the technique is still being studied and more research is needed to help determine its long-term efficacy).

One company with centers around the world is Brain State Technologies ( "A set of ten sessions could cost $1,200 to $4,000, depending on the level of services and the location," says Lee Gerdes, Brain State's CEO. "But once you've balanced your brain, you'll achieve the same relaxed state you get after taking a vacation, and the effects can last a lifetime."

What is the efficacy?  I don't know.  Don't see anything particularly scholastic out there.
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

To Orthotic or Not to Orthotic: That is the Question

To Orthotic or Not to Orthotic:  That is the Question: 
Whether 'tis nobler in the feet to suffer
The aches and stress of poor foot alignment
Or, to Spend a Lot of Money
And By Supporting Feet, End the Suffering.
Foot molds for orthoticsImage by .imelda via Flickr
To Ache, To Wobble, No More,
And by an Ache to say We  End
The Heartache to say We End the Aches and Instability
That Flesh is Heir to.

Tis a Consumation Devotely To Be Wished...

My podiatrist has just recommended orthotics for me.  My audiologist has seen that orthotics can make a big difference for many of her clients who suffer from balance problems.  My husband has just got MBT's and thinks that his tootsies are happier.  Then along comes this study that disses the use of orthotics. 

"For more than 30 years Dr. Nigg, a professor of biomechanics and co-director of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Calgary in Alberta, has asked how orthotics affect motion, stress on joints and muscle activity.

Do they help or harm athletes who use them? And is the huge orthotics industry — from customized shoe inserts costing hundreds of dollars to over-the-counter ones sold at every drugstore — based on science or on wishful thinking?

His overall conclusion: Shoe inserts or orthotics may be helpful as a short-term solution, preventing injuries in some athletes. But it is not clear how to make inserts that work. The idea that they are supposed to correct mechanical-alignment problems does not hold up."
Orthotic Shoe Inserts May Work, but It’s Not Clear Why -

Well, my podiatrist has also recommended doing certain exercises to help realign my feet and legs.  I think looking at my frame as a whole has a lot of merit.  When you look at the blogs at the NYT, there are a number of criticisms to the above article:

Studies on the effects of orthotics on the postural complex are difficult, but are not limited to the following reasons; 1) We cannot where the devices 100% of the time 2) Shoe gear differs 3) The permutations of the underlying criteria created by the quality and quantity of joint motions in the postural complex, muscle influence, osseous alignments, etc. are virtually infinite. We simply cannot take everything into account.
So, this is what makes the work-up for and the prescription writing for functional orthotic devices for the feet an art and a science. We must assess the patient statically as well as functionally in order to maximize the benefit of an orthotic device.
A significant number of patients benefit from this form of therapy. It cannot be discounted. In this time of managed care, many payers have realized their benefit as well by including this form of therapy as a covered service. Evidenced based medicine? I trust so.  From a Podiatrist

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Visual Search Skills and Autism

The ability to find shoes in the bedroom, apples in a supermarket, or a favourite animal at the zoo is impaired among children with autism, according to new research from the University of Bristol. Contrary to previous studies, which show that children with autism often demonstrate outstanding visual search skills, this new research indicates that children with autism are unable to search effectively for objects in real-life situations -- a skill that is essential for achieving independence in adulthood.
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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Told You

"I Told You" (No, You Didn't.  At least, not that I can recall) ... "Do I Have to Repeat Myself"  ( Yes, You Do.)
 a human brain in a jarImage via Wikipedia
These are some of the problems you can have when you can't remember what people have just told you.  It's quite aggravating on both ends when the communication  breaks down.  So, I have been doing exercises to help with auditory processing and memory with Posit Science's "Brain Fitness".

I noticed one thing in common with some of my scores on "Brain Fitness" is that I am not doing so well with stuff that requires memory, ie "Listen and Do" where you follow lists of instructions and "Sound Replay" where you listen and try to remember a sequence of syllables.  So, I am pondering how to remember what I have heard better. 

I will be finishing "Brain Fitness" shortly and will be conferring with my audiologist on the next steps.  But, I also believe in "healthy living" and augmenting therapy with common sense and doing exercises that will keep up what I learned in therapy.

The more you practice auditory memory exercises, the better you'll get and soon you won't have to write anything down. You'll hear something once and will be ingrained in your short term memory for a longer period of time than you're normally used to. This is great for phone numbers, addresses, instructions, shopping lists and more.
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Monday, January 17, 2011

I don't know anybody who isn't championing local food

A lot of us with food allergies are thinking about food and how to make what we can eat taste better. So I clipped this bunch of resources about local food. 
Better lattice top this time! Recipe from the ...Image via Wikipedia
"I don't know anybody who is NOT championing local produce and local cooking. American cooking as an approach, a body of work, sociology or history-that's a pretty big club and it is shifting quickly. Right now, probably the most substantial work is being done by organizations like Southern Foodways, Slow Food USA, and the Edible communities and magazines, individuals like Jan Longone at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan and Andrew Smith (editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America), as well as sites like,,, and Francis Lam at Salon,com. Magazines like Gastronomica and Saveur pay attention to America, and writers like Anne Mendelson, Laura Shapiro, Warren Belasco, John Egerton, and Mark Kurlansky are wonderful chroniclers of the fascinating, the good, and the repulsive. Historically, the best were the late Evan Jones (as well as Judith Jones' series on American regional cookbooks), Clementine Paddleford, James Beard, Waverley Root and, as far as cookbooks go, Irma Rombauer (author of The Joy of Cooking)."Project Foodie - Molly O'Neill's One Big Table:
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Best Fruit Now!

I found a great site about what's the best fruit to buy right now.     Tommy K, the author of the site,, is in the wholesale fruit and vegetable business in Philadelphia.  I wonder if he supplies the Italian market.  Best Fruit Now has a sortable list about what's good for the month of January.   He likes Asian pears, Apples, Oranges, Star Fruit, and Grapefruit.  He's not so keen on Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries.
Fruit bowl - containing pomegranate, pears, ap...Image via Wikipedia
Also, he gives tips on buying fruit:
  • Don't buy wrinkled, "antique fruit"
  • Don't buy bruised fruit
  • Don't buy berries that are leaking at the bottom
In another section, he talks about Fruits from New Jersey.  Yup, Snookie's home is the Garden State and received that moniker for truck fruits and vegetables. 

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Saturday, January 15, 2011


Oif, Oif, Oif... and I don't mean Operation Iraqi Freedom.... just moan, moan, moan...Brain coral at depth of 40 feet Brain CoralImage by drurydrama (Len Radin) via Flickr

I have finished 2 of the easier games in Posit Science's Brain Fitness and now, I have only 4 games left.  Unfortunately, only one of the games, "Match It",  where you look for sounds that you have heard in a grid and match them up, is easy; the rest are hard and aggravating.  Nine more days of Brain Fitness.

"Tell Us Apart" is driving me bonkers.   "Tell Us Apart" has you try to distinguish pairs of similar sounding syllables:  boe/doe, dah/gah, sheh/cheh, sah/stah, etc.  Not fun.  At the end of 15 minutes of this, I am going"Duhhhhh".   One really aggravating thing is that I am almost maxing out boe/doe but I just can't push it over the edge and the program is having me repeat, repeat, repeat.   Give it a rest, I say.  But no.  Just repeat it over and over.  Some of the sounds just sound alike to me.

"Sound Replay" is also not fun.  "Sound Replay" has you keep ever increasingly longer lists of syllables in your mind.  I am stuck on keeping 5 syllables in my brain.  I can do it for syllables that don't sound the same; but I can't seem to get past similarly sounding syllables:  bid, tip, tick, gig,bit.
The game has me repeating this constantly; I drop back to 4 syllables and then I return to 5 dissimilar syllables and then attempt 5 similar syllables. 

"Listen And Do" -- more moaning.  I can't keep more than 4 instructions in my brain.  5 instructions on a good day. 

I just found that they have a coaching program to help you practice some of the areas that you are deficient in.  I will give that a whirl...  and see what happens.  Also, ask Maxine, my audiologist, for any tips.

Don't get me wrong.  I think "Brain Fitness" has really helped my hearing.  I can hear a lot better in many areas and I feel that I am thinking more clearly.  It's just not a complete picnic each and every day.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Checkpoint on My Brain Fitness

I am about three quarters of the way through Posit Science's "Brain Fitness" and my hearing has really improved.  I have been doing this in conjunction with about 1/2 -1 hour on the WII Fitness (with the Balance Board) and my WII scores recently have taken a jump as well.  I am no scientist but somehow I do think that doing the two exercises together has had some synergistic effects.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World

We have the crucial new knowledge! Earth was not created a few thousand years ago, but neither is it an average planet of an average star in a universe where no place is special, as many scientifically educated people assume. Earth is incredibly special, more so than anyone imagined before recent discoveries of hundreds of other planets orbiting nearby stars. In fact, everything visible to all our scientific instruments -- the stars, planets, dust, nebulae, and all the galaxies -- is less than 1 percent of what's actually out there. Most of the matter in the universe is invisible, non-atomic "dark matter," and most of the density is not matter at all but "dark energy," which powers the expansion of the universe

The dance between dark matter and dark energy dominates the universe; the complex atoms that incarnate us and our entire planet are rare jewels created inside stars and blown out in supernovas to join a forming solar system. We humans all share an identical line of ancestry back past the first cell into supernovas across the galaxy and back to the Big Bang. These and other fundamental discoveries may make it possible to figure out how the universe operates on all size and time scales -- including our own. The Big Bang Big Bang Image by ToniVC via Flickr

Long before science, every tribe shared a "cosmology," that is, a big picture. If we construct a shared cosmology today, based on our best scientific understanding combined with a deep appreciation that in human brains, the sense of reality is created by metaphor, it could transform our minds and thus our world.
Tikkun Magazine - A Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World

Tikkun comes from the Hebrew phrase, tikkun olam (healing the world).  Generally speaking, Tikkun Magazine focuses on contemporary culture, politics and history.  I think the au is also trying to construct a framework to understand the changes in contemporary world by looking at how we fit into the greater universe.  Constructing a shared cosmology would also begin a framework for peace studies.

I would like to extend this thought a step further and think about understanding our inner cosmology through the advances in neuroscience as part of a new framework for peace studies.  There is a lot of work done in Eastern studies about the interdependence of the five senses and consciousness and cosmology:  how we relate to the world, how we understand the world and what is the world we seek to understand.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Old Home Week with Maxine

Going back to see my audiologist, Maxine Young, is like old home week.  Maxine met me with a big hug and complimented me on the softness of the vest I was wearing.  I have been looking forward to seeing her as she is not only a very smart cookie but has been very supportive and savvy about treating my hearing problems and giving me a good roadmap as to how to handle my other problems. 
 Absolute thresholds of hearing by age in males...Absolute thresholds of hearing by ageImage via Wikipedia
I caught her up on my history and she is amazed at all that I've been doing.  She thinks that a lot of people would have given up in my situation and she is impressed with the progress that I have made.

Maxine gave me a  hearing test which has showed some improvement in hearing.  My hearing threshold has dropped to 5 Decibels from 10-15 which means I can hear much softer sounds.  This means I don't need a hearing aide for amplification!  Yippee!!!

She is pondering whether I would need to do "Fast Forward", a computerized program that treats auditory processing,  at all.  As my gentle readers know, I have been doing "Brain Fitness" by Posit Science.  Maxine says that "Brain Fitness" is "Fast Forward" for adults plus some other stuff.  

Maxine also thinks that all the other therapies that I've been doing have helped out tremendously in terms of how neuroplasticity works to enhance auditory function.

I told her about problems that I have had with talking to people both one-on-one and also in groups.  She thinks that these may be sensory processing issues. 

Maxine is going to ponder the new information and think about the next steps.  In addition to tinnitus,  she thinks that I probably should start working on executive function soon and that any attention problems may not be related to auditory processing. She will call me in a week.

All this testing and the hour drive over to the other side of Philadelphia knocked my socks off so I went home and slept for 4 1/2 hours.  I am looking forward to hearing what Maxine has to say.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Smell Evaluation at UPenn Taste and Smell Clinic

Spent a whole day doing an Evaluation at the University of Pennsylvania Taste & Smell Clinic.  They put a gustometer, a meter that  by provoking metallic like tastes on the tongue.  They gave me two trials on a variety of different spots of the tongue and I was to pick the trial that tasted the most metallic.  My electrogustometric thresholds on the left and right sides of the tongue were elevated.

CSIRO, an Australian research facility uses a specialized gastrometer to measure people's reactions to
  • able to deliver mixtures of up to six aromas in air
  • able to deliver mixtures of up to seven tastes in water
  • works with natural methods of sniffing, sipping therefore works with existing learning and expectations
  • can change concentrations of flavour and aroma components between samples and even within a sample
  • can integrate with other measuring equipment such as EEG to measure brain waves and PTR-MS to measure aroma on breath during eating as well as spectrometers to measure the exact competition.
There's a new gustometer recently publicized over at Pubmed that  evokes "gustatory evoked potentials" by provoking metallic like tastes on the tongue and measures galvanic skin reactions (kind of like how biofeedback works).

At any rate, back to my eval.  Next, they checked airflow for  acoustic rhinometry and nasal resistance with an anterior rhinomanometry.    Nothing new there.  My airflow is just fine thanks to sinus surgery.

I did a scratch and sniff test (UPSIT) of a variety of odors from everything from paint thinner to cinnamon and chocolate.  The UPSIT is the gold standard for smell.  The UPSIT showed mild microsmia (25th percentile for my age aand gender). 

Also, I sniffed bottles of similar odors to check magnitude of smell.   Detection thresholds for rose-like oderant phenyl ethyl alcohol were elevated as well).

I also did the Odor Memory Test and was borderline normal.  The Odor Memory Test involved sniffing something and then counting backwards by threes from 280.

I also did a whole mouth  tasting of a variety of samples ranging from very salty, sour, sweet and bitter.  Nothing much was found there.

At the end of all of this, Dr. Doty found that there was severe loss of smell unaccompanied by loss of taste per se.  His feeling is that my loss of smell is probably due to damage from olfactory membranes as a result of a  URI (upper respiratory infection). 

His recommendation is an over the countere antioxidant alpha lipoic acid 4-600 mg/day and maybe trying to smell different spices and flavoring agents twice a day  to wake up the neurons.

On a side note, my tinnitus really flared up later that night.  I will see my audiologist tomorrow and find out if there is anything to this.

Tasted drops on different parts of the tongue to see if there is any massive differential on parts of the tongue.

Also, drank different mixtures of varying strengths and tasted

Friday, January 7, 2011

What's Love Got To Do With It?

"What’s love got to do with it? Tina Turner doesn’t necessarily have the eyes in mind when she belts out that tune, but neuroscientists do. Trolling for something else this morning, I came across a a great viewpoint piece I had forgotten about, with the provocative title of EMOTIONAL VISION – Nature Neuroscience 2004 It’s written by Ralph Adolphs, a social scientist who hangs his hat at Cal Tech in Pasadena and his coat at the University of Iowa’s Department of Neurology.
Tina TurnerCover of Tina Turner
The gist of the article is that emotions can directly influence sensory processing, and can do so at surprisingly early stages. Surprising, that is, only if one is not familiar with the concepts of behavioral and developmental optometry. In this diagram, the components of the amygdala, the major brain structure involved in emotions, can be seen to modulate key visual regions of the brain that follows a ventral stream of information which helps us in recognition objects and form."

Neuro-optometric Vision Rehabilitation � The VisionHelp Blog

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Listen to the Children: Gifted Children and Vision

Complete neuron cell diagram. Neurons (also kn...Neuronal CellsImage via WikipediaDo Gifted Children Choose Their Gifts?

In a provocative article, Dr. Leonard Press, COVD, poses the question of the bright children he sees in his practice who have instinctively understood the limitations of neuronal real estate:  If I get better by learning how to read, will I lose my other gifts?  He cites the example of a boy gifted intellectually and athletically (baseball) and a girl gifted intellectually and artistically (drawing).  Both have wondered whether by undertaking a course of vision therapy to improve reading skills that they will lose skills in nonacademic areas.   Really, all neuroplasticity-- that the brain can rewire itself-- aside, aren't there some sort of tradeoffs that the brain is making as it constructs new pathways with the neurons and prunes old ones?

I suppose,  these children are wondering about the impact of vision therapy activities upon the athletics and arts that they prefer.   Not just the tradeoff made in time spent on vision therapy vs other activities; but, whether the brain will fundamentally not pursue highly visual activities.  Not to knock the importance of having the necessary visual skills for reading, but I think Dr. Press is on to something.  Another way of expressing the limitations of neuronal real estate  is found in the Dr. Stanislaus Dehanae's concept of "neuronal recycling", the idea that there is a reallocation of cortical space from one purpose to another.  Dr. Dehanae expressly points out that the skills used to acquire literacy are perhaps, taking away from cognitive abilities handed down from evolution. The very visual skills needed as a hunter gatherer or cave painter, are very different from the visual skills that get you into college.  Eye doctors of all stripes recommend taking visual breaks every twenty minutes where you stop focusing on a near point activity such as reading and look far away  to preserve distance vision.  In Dehanae's view,  neuroplasticity can be a zero sum game:  what you gain in one area you lose in an another unless you take some preventitive measures.

In a forward to Thomas West's book on dyslexia Oliver Sacks has also suggested a tradeoff between lexical (reading) and visual abilities.  Sacks has noted that many people who have reading problems have compensated for these problems with greatly enhanced visual skills in other areas. 

Dr. Press' conclusion ultimately is to look at vision therapy as an enhancement to existing capabilities:

 "When children ask me the question about trading in the visual gifts that they value for other visual gifts that educators and parents seem to value more, I now explain that the spirit of our vision therapy room is like Liberty Science Center. It is less about right and wrong answers and more about setting up conditions to explore how their vision is working under different circumstances. We will use pencil and paper, we will use letters, we will use balls and lenses and prisms and balance and movement, and probe the visual space inside their minds as much as outside their bodies."

Looking at vision therapy as an enhancement, refrains the children's questions.  I think the children are asking to be valued for themselves, their unique identity and talents.   The children realize that they have something unique and special that may be shunted aside so that attention can be placed on skills that adults think are important.   The children ask us to look deep within our evolution from primates to human beings and understand the need for visual skills that are not tested with No Child Left Behind.

My vision problems are the opposite of these children.  I don't know how my genes ever survived the transition from cave man to 21st Century woman.  For much of my life, I couldn't see clearly.  As a huntress,  I wouldn't have seen the prey lurking in the bush.  I wouldn't have remembered the route to the animals feeding spot.  Running through the woods would have been a blur of trees and open spaces.   Forget about cave painting.

Vision therapy is helping me return to the beginning of man(or woman) in perceiving and relating to the world.  Rather than interacting with a vibrant world, I've leapt over evolutionary stages and have dwelt in the land of the intellect without much innate connection to my body or the living world around me.   I'm trying to take a page from the children and say, "Well, what gift has this brought you?"  "Surely, this rewiring of the brain gave you something... and I don't mean a 'splinter skill' or 'savant' ".   I mean, something vibrant and valued in its own right.

I think as I go through these different therapies, I'll start re-evaluating what and who I am.   Many things that I do may have been done in the light of someone who can't see, hear, or manipulate objects too well.   As vision, hearing, and motor skills become better what does that mean in terms of how and with whom I spend my time?   What things should I keep from my old life and what are now seen as compensations that are no longer needed?

I think the answer to these questions will come when I listen to my own inner child.
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