Discoveries in the last 10 years have given us new information on the emerging brain of newborns, the impulsive brain of adolescents, the efficient brain of the adult, and the slowed-down brain of seniors — to reach better functionality.
Research into the brain is one of the fastest growing fields of study in contemporary science. What we know about the brain today is vastly different than what we thought we knew just 10 years ago. And 10 years from now, it is likely that most of what we think about the brain today will have been overturned, and replaced by new knowledge. One indication of the infancy of the field is the amount of attention that is given to studying the brain (and its accompanying nervous system) in medical schools. It accounts for a mere 20%; the remaining 80% is devoted to human anatomy, physiology, and the systems of respiration, circulation and digestion.
Thanks to new imaging techniques, we can now actually look inside a living brain. From brain scans, we can see when the brain is active. We know that when the brain is alive and active, it demonstrates the attributes that we generally call intelligence. As well as having the capacity to learn, to recall, to express feelings and to conjure up thoughts and ideas, an active brain also dreams, argues beliefs, formulates discernments, makes decisions, creates behavior. We usually think about these qualities as belonging to the mind. But without the brain, the mind does not exist. The mind is, in essence, the brain in an animated state. For intelligence to grow, for emotional balance to be created, for understanding and experiencing the meaning of our individual lives – for all of what we value and cherish about what it means to be human, we need an animated brain.
We have long known that from the moment of birth, brain cells begin to die. This fact led to the belief that the mental decline most people experience as they age was due to the steady death of these cells. But the year 1998 was a hallmark year for brain research, as a team of American and Swedish scientists demonstrated for the first time that new brain cells are generated in adult humans. From this finding, we have scientific data that supports the notion that intelligence and mental capacity can continue to grow and expand throughout life.
A second discovery turned another decades-long-standing theory about brain functioning, called brain specificity, upside-down, and this discovery was made from working with the brain-injured. The concept of brain specificity refers to the idea that a single portion of the brain is responsible for specific functions. Yet, this concept was disastrous for those who were either born with or incurred later in life any kind of brain injury. The theory predicts that when an area of the brain is damaged, the corresponding place in the body would be affected in terms of its function. This theory led to pessimism about recoverability from brain injury, and from this pessimism came a disinterest in exploring new methods of reversing brain damage. Whole populations of children born with brain dysfunctions were given up as un-helpable; similarly, it was thought that stroke victims could only make improvement if remedial therapy was given immediately after the stroke.
We now know, however, that the brain functionality is neither specific nor localized. The brain-injured children especially have taught us that lesson. Bob Doman has worked extensively with brain-damaged children for decades Among the many thousands of children he has worked with, he refers to the remarkable case of a ten-year old girl who had lost 95% of her brain. Her head was full of cerebral spinal fluid, and all that was left of her brain was a tiny little area in the forehead region. Yet, with only that much of her brain left, this child could both see and hear. She was seeing and hearing normally in spite of the fact that the primary parts of her brain that are responsible for the vision and auditory processing no longer existed.
Similarly, it was traditionally thought that if a stroke victim showed no improvement within the first two weeks, the paralysis and damage would be permanent. Yet, numerous recent studies have shown this long-standing supposition to be false. With new understandings of the workings of the brain, techniques have evolved that have enabled patients who had been paralyzed for more than 20 years to regain motor control.
Because functions of the brain are found in many different locations in the brain, there is a powerful compensatory mechanism that can be called upon to come into play. Brainercizing utilizes the findings of these recent discoveries to stimulate, balance and grow all brains — the emerging brain of newborns, the impulsive brain of adolescents, the efficient brain of the adult, and the slowed-down brain of seniors — to reach better functionality.
THE NEWBORN BRAIN
The brain is equipped with the largest amount of neurons it will ever have in utero – between the third and sixth month of gestation. After birth, the infant will enter the time when all five senses are being used. Offer a baby a rattle, and she will first look at it, using her visual sense. Then she may grab onto it, using her tactile sense. Then she will shake it, using her auditory sense. She may try to smell it, but the artificial scent of plastic will make this sensory stimulation an unpleasant one. So she will move quickly onto the next sense. She will put the rattle into her mouth, exploring her sense of taste. In the Brainercizing classes, when we work with the young brain, we especially emphasize the group of exercises we call Sensercize, and we accelerate the pace at which connections between the senses are made. Infants and children, then, become more alert, more responsive, more coordinated, and more adept at tasks.
THE ADOLESCENT BRAIN
Scientists have established that brain growth peaks in girls when they are 11 years old, and in boys when they are 12 ½. These changes mean that nerve-signal transmissions become faster and more efficient. One could sum up the brain functioning of adolescence as being like an efficient racing car: it has fewer connections, but operates faster. Part of the challenge of working with the adolescent brain is to balance the limited perception of long-term consequences with the powerful sense of urgency that the fast processing rate creates. When we work with adolescents in Brainercizing classes, we especially emphasize the group of exercises we call Limbercize, referring to the Limbic system in the brain, the seat of emotions. Adolescents then become more thoughtful about their actions, more in control of their impulses.
THE ADULT BRAIN
Many higher cognitive skills, including judgment, emotional regulation and self-control, organization and planning, are not fully formed until adulthood. By the time we have reached our twenties, we have honed our sensory experiences. (We longer feel the urge to taste a rattle.) Taste, touch and smell have fallen into the background of the more ever-present auditory and visual senses. As adults, 90% of the conscious sensory experience we have, and 90% of the information we take into our brain will come from seeing and hearing. MRI brain scans show that white matter in the brain continues to increase until people are in their mid- to late-40s. When we work with the adult brain in Brainercize™ we especially emphasize the group of exercises we call Imagercize. Individuals then become less stressed and more playful in their flights of fantasy where all things are possible.
THE MATURE BRAIN
We prefer calling it the mature brain, as opposed to the aging brain. The brain keeps growing throughout adulthood, specifically in the temporal lobe and frontal lobe — the parts of the brain that largely differentiates us from animals. This continued brain growth into late middle-age and old age can be associated with better emotional development and wisdom and perspective. But research verifies that the changes in the mature brain are much more complex: it loses reaction time, short-term memory ability and processing speed. The sensory input is weaker and less accurate in the mature brain; older adults neither see, hear, feel, taste nor smell as accurately as teenagers. In fact, in the diminishment of the fine articulation of sensory input, the mature brain begins to resemble its earliest origin: the new-born brain. Yet, in spite of these diminutions of certain abilities, complex reasoning skills improve.
One of the best examples of a mature brain functioning at a high level was renowned physicist Hans Berthe who, until his death in 2005, was the oldest living scientist who had worked on the atomic bomb. He also gave us the best explanation of how the sun works, His publishers apparently felt confident in his brain, as well as his health, since they signed him onto a five-year book contract when he was ninety. He fulfilled the contract, dying at the young age of 98. When we work with the mature brain in Brainercize™, we especially emphasize the grouping of exercises we call Rememberercize.