Thursday, August 10, 2006
Use your brain in a variety of ways to keep it healthy

By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Medical director

Modern research has resulted in many changes in the way we think about brain cells. Not too many years ago, the thinking was that we were born with all of our brain cells. Then over the years we continued to lose brain cells. That is not true. We are born with more brain cells than we need. We do lose some of those. However, the ones we have grow more after birth. Other new ones form. Our brain is constantly changing. Areas that we use a lot have more cells. Areas that we do not use a lot have fewer cells. For example right-handed individuals have a better-developed area of the brain for their right hand than their left hand. However, if those individuals use their left hands more than the average, the area of their brain controlling the left hand will go on to develop more. The best example of this is the violinist. Violinists use their left hands to control the strings of the violin. The area of the brain controlling their left hand is more developed than the average right-handed individual. Another example is individuals who undergo amputation of a limb. When that occurs two things happen in the brain. One is that the area controlling that limb becomes less active. The other is that the surrounding areas of the brain kind of take over that area. The result is that the nerves controlling those areas are more sensitive than they would have been. This might help explain why individuals who are deaf or blind have other senses heightened. A good example of this is seen in blind individuals. These individuals cannot read because they cannot see print. Therefore, you would expect that area of their brain to not be active. However, if they learn to read Braille, the area of the brain that develops for reading Braille is the same one that would develop if they read print. What this means to us on a practical level is that it is important for us to engage in many different activities. Each of those activities stimulates a different portion of the brain. Reading will be different from watching television. Doing puzzles will be different from listening to music. This is even truer for young children. They are born ready to learn things in many different areas. It is necessary for us to provide them with stimulation in as many of those areas as possible. This is one of the reasons that young children are much better at learning a second language than older individuals. Their brain cells are ready and able to do this. When I was an intern I noticed that infants who were demanding of their parents' attention tended to get a lot more stimulation. The interesting thing was that those same infants often proved to be smart when they got older. The question at the time was whether their intelligence made them demanding or the stimulation they got from being demanding made them intelligent. It is likely a combination of the two. It creates challenges for us as adults. It creates challenges for us as parents. The brain is not something that sits idle. It is a dynamic part of the body. We owe it to ourselves to develop it to the best of our ability.

AARP suggests ways to keep cool in summer heat
Older people are especially at risk from heat related health problems such as heatstroke and heat exhaustion. With the heat wave Sussex County is currently experiencing, now is not the time to do chores, run errands or weed your garden. "Heat can be miserable for all ages, but potentially life threatening for older persons," according to Elinor Ginzler, AARP Director for Livable Communities. Here are 10 tips for dealing with the heat wave:
  • Relax and put off chores and any strenuous activity.
  • Stay indoors during the hottest times of the day.
  • Close your shades to keep out the sunshine.
  • If you do not have air conditioning, stay on the lower-level in your home – heat rises.
  • Check with your local agency for cool places you can go, such as libraries and public buildings, or a mall with air conditioning.
  • Wear light-weight, loose fitting clothing and protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses or use an umbrella.
  • Drink plenty of water even if you are not thirsty. This helps keep your body cool.
  • Avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages.
  • If you have a chronic medical condition, talk with your doctor about additional precautions you should take to prevent heat related illness. Some conditions and medications may place you at higher risk.
  • Neighbors, friends or family should check in on older people in their homes to make sure they are not suffering from the heat.
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50 and older have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. It produces AARP The Magazine, published bimonthly; AARP Bulletin, a monthly newspaper; AARP Segunda Juventud, a bimonthly magazine in Spanish and English; NRTA Live & Learn, a quarterly newsletter for educators 50 and older; and the Web site, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older people in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. The foundation has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

College offers classes on massage therapy
Delaware Tech's Owens Campus offers a comprehensive training program for professional massage therapists. A free information session to introduce interested students to the program will be held on Thursday, Aug. 17, from 6 to 7 p.m., in the Jason Technology Center, Room 001. The three-semester, 624-hour massage therapy program meets local licensing and national certification standards and includes specialized training in the art and science of massage therapy along with a study of sound business practices. Graduates will be prepared to take the National Certification Exam in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork and gain entry-level employment as massage therapists in private practices, physical fitness facilities, hotels and resorts, sports medicine clinics, and health care facilities. The program is designed to teach Swedish massage, deep muscle massage, and myofascial release techniques through a combination of classroom, laboratory, and clinical experience. For more information, or to request a detailed brochure prior to the information session, contact Lori Westcott at 302-855-5988.