Movement and the Brain ⇒

A very interesting case study came out recently, looking at the neurological function of a particularly active 93-year-old woman named Olga Kotelko (she died in 2014 at age 95) . She became an athlete in her sixties playing softball, then started track and field at age 77. Exercise benefits are often assumed to apply to our physical state, and it also seems to be associated more and more with good mental health. This study took things a step further and looked at her overall brain function to see if her routine exercise had any impact on both the brain itself as well as cognition.

“In general, the brain shrinks with age,” [University of Illinois Beckman Institute postdoctoral researcher Agnieszka] Burzynska said. Fluid-filled spaces appear between the brain and the skull, and the ventricles enlarge, she said.

“The cortex, the outermost layer of cells where all of our thinking takes place, that also gets thinner,” she said. White matter tracts, which carry nerve signals between brain regions, tend to lose their structural and functional integrity over time. And the hippocampus, which is important to memory, usually shrinks with age, Burzynska said.

Previous studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise can enhance cognition and boost brain function in older adults, and can even increase the volume of specific brain regions like the hippocampus, Kramer said.

Kotelko’s brain offered some intriguing first clues about the potentially beneficial effects of her active lifestyle.

Though it wasn't strongly emphasized in the article, something else really grabbed my attention:

“During dinner after the long day of testing, I asked Olga if she was tired, and she replied, ‘I rarely get tired,’” [Beckman Institute director Art] Kramer said. “The decades-younger graduate students who tested her, however, looked exhausted.”

It really does seem that our culture as a problem with sleep. I'm as guilty of not getting enough sleep as anyone. I have a bad habit of getting only around 6-7 hours of sleep per night. I blame the amount of things I have on my plate at any given time for this, but the likelier truth is that if I would get enough rest, I could probably manage all of these things with greater efficiency.

In any case, one of my goals since transitioning settings has been to both increase the amount of sleep I get and also start to exercise more. Forming new habits is hard, but watching Olga herself on video shows that it's clearly worth it.

Posted on September 12, 2015 and filed under cognition, research, links.

Farewell, Oliver Sacks ⇒

Oliver Sacks, famous writer and neurologist, has died. From his website:

Oliver Sacks died early this morning at his home in Greenwich Village, surrounded by his close friends and family. He was 82. He spent his final days doing what he loved—playing the piano, writing to friends, swimming, enjoying smoked salmon, and completing several articles. His final thoughts were of gratitude for a life well lived and the privilege of working with his patients at various hospitals and residences including the Little Sisters of the Poor in the Bronx and in Queens, New York.

It's interesting to read his thoughts on life and death, as well as cancer. Cancer has had a profound impact on my family this year. Knowing that death is approaching is a strange feeling, especially for someone you love. The biggest challenge, I think, is keeping perspective, which Oliver Sacks always did well. From his New York Times op-ed in February 2015, when he revealed his terminal cancer diagnosis:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

That fear can be both for the person with cancer and for their loved ones. These words are helpful even for those who survive their loved one, and I hold them close to me always.

Rest in peace, Oliver Sacks. Thank you, for everything.

Posted on August 30, 2015 and filed under links, neuro.

★ ASHA Health Care & Business Institute

Greetings from Phoenix, Arizona! I’m attending ASHA’s Health Care & Business Institute, which is a three-day conference covering a variety of clinical and, as the name suggests, business topics. My last convention was in Chicago in 2013 for the large annual ASHA Convention.

I did things differently for this convention than I have for my past conventions:

  1. I took the entire day off to allow for travel. I used to work most of the day and then travel, which always left me tired right out of the gate. Having the whole day off meant I could fly in sooner, and then had time to wander and explore the area a bit before going to check in for the conference.
  2. Being here early also meant I was able to be present for the opening reception. It was lightly attended (I was also there early), but already I’ve had the chance to meet new people and have thoughtful and interesting conversations.
  3. I packed much lighter. This was somewhat easier given both that it’s summer and that it’s Phoenix, but I was careful to pack only what I would need.
  4. While I brought my laptop, I don’t plan on using it to take notes during sessions. I may tweet information from time to time from my phone, but having recently been reading and listening to stories about the big difference between writing notes vs typing them (namely that we tend to transcribe when typing rather than actually processing what we’re hearing in order to write meaningful notes), I decided to bring along a notebook and pen and see if I can tell a difference.

The biggest difference between the ASHA Convention and this one so far is both size and scope. It’s definitely a more intimate setting, and there are far fewer sessions from which to select. However, I appreciate the focus and the various learning “tracks” (there are five themes and one session per theme for each time slot) for helping me decide what I want to learn about. As I’ve been learning to navigate the worlds of home health and outpatient care, there are many things I’m eager to learn.

If you’re interested in following any tweets I might be writing, I’ll be writing them @ProjectSLP and using the hashtag #HCBI15. And if you were curious, I brought my camera along so I could enjoy my hobby while also in an exciting and educational frame of mind. Above are pictured some shots of the Phoenix Convention Center.

Posted on July 10, 2015 and filed under continuing education.

★ On Improving the ASHA CE Registry

Last night I wrote a tweet regarding the ASHA Continuing Education Registry that seemed to resonate a lot with other folks across Twitter. ASHA had linked to an Instagram photo that encouraged members to join the CE Registry, and I replied that while I liked it, I felt it should already be included in the cost of annual dues (rather than the additional $25/year it currently costs each member).

I have paid the annual fee for the continuing education registry ever since earning my CCCs. I find it convenient and helpful, as it puts all my continuing education in one place. I could easily do so myself with a simple table or spreadsheet on my computer, but having it as part of my ASHA profile is helpful because when ASHA wants to verify my CEUs, it’s a snap to do so because they’re already in their own system. I don’t have to pull out my file, or scans, or any other information to verify that I earned my CEUs. Also, when my state organization wants to audit my CEUs, it’s simple to log in to ASHA, print out my transcript, and send it along.

I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I have been able to afford the annual $25 fee for the past few years. I have no idea if that will always be the case, and for many folks, the additional fee on top of the annual membership fee is just not feasible for them. This is especially true when additional costs for continuing education itself, as well as state licensure, are considered.

In my concurrent career as a certified sign language interpreter, the certifying body has a means to track CEUs as part of the annual cost of membership. It’s easy to see why: having all members be able to track CEUs as part of the online dashboard is helpful for us to keep track of continuing education. On the flip side, it’s also easier for the organization itself to keep track of our its members CEUs. It saves them time and resources and simplifies the bookkeeping on their end. It’s a win-win, so it’s worth it to incorporate it into the cost of membership.

A bonus to including CE registry cost into annual membership would be that more members may consider joining a Special Interest Group rather than trying to decide between the two (SIG membership is $35 per year, but you get my drift; costs for SIGs could benefit from a pricing structure change, too, but that’s another discussion for another day). Fundamentally, I think all members would benefit from having access to the CE registry as a part of the basic cost of membership, and ASHA and the professions at large would benefit from increased SIG membership and the resources and professional discussion that can be gained from them.

Posted on March 15, 2015 and filed under continuing education, ASHA.