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International Brain Awareness Week 2008

International Brain Awareness Week 2008 - March 10-16

In the early 1900s, Sigmund Freud, Alois Alzheimer and Harvey Cushing were building their careers in neuroscience. Freud published his groundbreaking work The Interpretation of Dreams, Alzheimer identified Alzheimer’s disease, and Cushing was establishing neurosurgery as a specialty.

A century later, the Society for Neuroscience has more then 38,000 members and a Google search on neuroscience brings up more than nine million hits. Neuroscience has become one of the leading fields of scientific endeavor and almost daily scientific papers are published detailing new findings about the brain and its functions.

Each March, the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand supports Brain Awareness Week, an international effort organized by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives to raise public awareness about this critical research and how it is revealing the brain’s deepest mysteries and helping to find the cures for neurological disorders.

This is the third year the Neurological Foundation has been involved but the campaign has been running internationally for more than a decade, and now involves more than 70 other countries.

As part of the week’s activities, the Foundation is launching a poster with tips for brain health for the general public. Neuroscience research is not only advancing our knowledge of the brain, it is also revealing ways in which we can maintain our brain health throughout our lives.

Brain Awareness Week is a great opportunity for you to learn more about brain research and what it is revealing about how the brain works and how to cultivate a healthy brain.

Ponder these questions:

• What do I know about my brain?

• What would I like to know about my brain?

• What am I doing to cultivate and nurture my brain as much as I care for other areas of my health and fitness?

Throughout the week, the Foundation is supporting activities to help increase your knowledge of the brain.
For more information go to

Support Brain Awareness Week

Your organization can help support Brain Awareness Week with articles on brain research, disease and brain health. Over the last year New Zealand neuroscientists have made significant discoveries and neurological research is undertaken at most tertiary institutions throughout the country.

For copies of the poster “Roadmap to a Healthy Brain” please contact the Foundation on 09-309 7749.

Neurological Open Days

The Foundation is supporting two Neurological Open Days in Auckland and Dunedin.

Guest lecturer Professor Andrew Matus will be speaking at both events. He is the University of Auckland’s 2008 Hood Fellow. The New Zealand-born neurobiologist spent 36 years at the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel Switzerland studying the plasticity of brain circuits. He is a Professor at the University of Basel and received a Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa from Stockholm University.

Saturday March 8

Neurological Open Day, St David’s Lecture Theatre Complex, University of Otago, Dunedin

The day will highlight all facets of neurology, including the latest research, clinical advances, education, support services, and brain health advice.

The event will feature lectures from neuroscientists and support groups.

1pm Assoc Prof Liz Franz FMRI*otago* investigations into neurological disorders: seeing the brain in action
2pm Prof Andrew Matus Movement in the Brain – what molecules tell us about mental life
3pm Assoc Prof Cynthia Darlington What's the buzz? Tinnitus, fact and fiction.
4pm Dr John Reynolds Positive reinforcement or Parkinson’s?

Giving the brain the right signals.

Saturday March 15

Neurological Open Day, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Auckland Grafton Campus, Auckland.

The day will highlight all facets of neurology, including the latest research, clinical advances, education, support services, and brain health advice.

The event will feature lectures from neurologists, neuroscientists and support groups.

10:am Prof Alan Barber, Auckland District Health Board “Stroke: what is it and how to treat and prevent it”
11:am Prof Peter Thorne

Audiology and Physiology, University of Auckland “Hearing and deafness: Making sense of our hearing sense”
12:pm Prof Richard Faull

Director of the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank, Department of Anatomy, University of Auckland “The Marvels of the Human Brain”

Professor Michael Corballis

Department of Psychology, University of Auckland ”The lopsided brain”
2pm Dr Peter Bergin

Neurology, Auckland City Hospital, President of New Zealand League Against Epilepsy “Epilepsy - what, why, where and when?”
3pm Prof Andrew Matus Movement in the Brain – what molecules tell us about mental life

The Neurological Foundation of New Zealand is an independent body that raises money to support neurological research and education in New Zealand.

It receives no government assistance, and is almost totally funded by individual New Zealanders, with more than 98 per cent of contributions coming from donations and bequests.

Last year it gave more than $1.6 million in grants for neurological research.

14 Steps to Brain Health - Recommended Brain Fitness Activities

1 Eat Dark Chocolate

The task: Add some dark chocolate to your diet.

The reason: When you eat chocolate you activate the systems in your brain that pump dopamine, an important brain chemical. These systems enable learning and memory, and help keep your brain sharp and fit.

2 Visit a Museum

The task: Go on a guided tour of a museum or another site of interest. Pay careful attention to what the guide says. When you get home, try to reconstruct the tour by writing an outline that includes everything you remember.

The reason: Research into brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to change at any age) indicates that memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function (and hinder the rate of decline) of the brain

3 Memorize a Song

The task: Choose a song with lyrics you enjoy but don’t have memorized. Listen to the song as many times as necessary to write down all the lyrics. Then learn to sing along. Once you’ve mastered one song, move on to another!

The reason: Developing better habits of careful listening will help you in your understanding, thinking and remembering. Reconstructing the song requires close attentional focus and an active memory. When you focus, you release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a brain chemical that enables plasticity and vivifies memory.

4 Exercise Your Peripheral Vision

The task: Sit in a place outside your house, such as on a park bench or in a café. Stare straight ahead and don’t move your eyes. Concentrate on everything you can see without moving your eyes, including in your peripheral vision. When you have finished, write a list of everything you saw. Then try again and see if you can add to your list.

The reason: Scientists have shown that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is crucial to focus and memory, falls off with memory loss and is almost absent in Alzheimer’s patients. This activity should help you reinvigorate the controlled release of acetylcholine in your brain through a useful visual memory task.

5 Learn to play a musical instrument

The task: If you’ve ever thought about learning to play an instrument or take up an old one, now is a great time!

The reason: Playing an instrument helps you exercise many interrelated dimensions of brain function, including listening, control of refined movements, and translation of written notes (sight) to music (movement and sound).

6 Do a jigsaw puzzle

The task: Do a jigsaw puzzle that will be challenging for you—no fewer than 500 pieces.

The reason: Mundane as they may seem, jigsaw puzzles can provide real help for your brain. Completing one requires fine visual judgments about where pieces belong. It entails mentally “rotating” the pieces, manipulating them in your hands, and shifting your attention from the small piece to the “big picture.” To top it off, it’s rewarding to find the right pieces.

7 Turn down the TV

The task: Set your television volume down a little from where you normally have it set. See if by concentrating you can follow just as successfully as when the volume was higher. As soon as that setting gets easy, turn it down another notch!

The reason: Think of it this way: You can’t get rid of radio static by turning up the volume. Many people raise the volume because their listening has become ‘detuned’—a little fuzzy. Matching TV volume to a conversational level can help you catch every word when talking with others.

8 Have a ball

The task: Practice throwing and catching a ball up in the air. If you’re good at it, take up juggling.

The reason: People who master these kinds of sensory-guided movement activities can hone their brains’ visual, tactile and hand-eye coordination responses, with widespread positive impacts for the brain.

9 Step it up a notch

The task: Find an activity you like to do by yourself—such as completing a crossword puzzle or knitting—and take it to the next level. See if by concentrating and giving more effort to the activity you can succeed better or more quickly.

The reason: There is limited value in working at a game or exercise that you can perform without paying close attention. It is important to always strive to take it up a notch to a higher and more demanding level, where you re-engage the brain’s learning machinery.

10 Learn to use the other hand

The task: If you’re right-handed, use your left hand for daily activities (or vice-versa). Start with brushing your teeth left-handed, and practice until you have perfected it. Then try to build your way up to more complex tasks, such as eating.

The reason: This is an exercise in which you know what you’re supposed to achieve, but must do it in a new and demanding learning context. Doing such an activity can drive your brain to make positive changes. Think of millions of neurons learning new tricks as you finally establish better control of that other hand!

11 Eat fish

The task: Add fish—especially fatty fish like salmon—to your diet.

The reason: Studies suggest that a diet rich in fish can improve cognitive function.

12 Start exercising

The task: Brain health is another reason to get on your bicycle, to the swimming pool or wherever else you like to exercise your body.

The reason: New research indicates that exercise has positive benefits for the hippocampus, a brain structure that is important for learning and memory. It can even help your brain create new cells.

13 Take the Rocky Road

The task: Take a walk on a cobblestone path.

The reason: Scientists believe that walking on uneven surfaces like cobblestones improves the vestibular system of the inner ear, which plays a central role in balance and equilibrium. Cobblestone walking challenges the vestibular system in ways that improve its function, which translates into better balance- the key to preventing serious injuries.

14 Catch some Z’s

The task: Get a good night’s sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep, make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark, learn some deep relaxation techniques, and avoid alcohol and caffeine after 7 in the evening.

The reason: Scientists believe that our brains consolidate learning and memories during sleep. Studies have shown that people who don’t sleep enough have more trouble learning new information, while sleeping well after learning something new helps the brain effectively put that information into long-term memory.


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