Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Silver Linings In Alzheimer's Clouds

Image from Arkansas matters.com

New Research Reveals Slow But Steady Progress

All optimism begins to evaporate when you sit face-to-face with an individual who has gone deep into the abyss of Alzheimer's. Communicating is an effective tool, often times, when dealing with people; but this tool alas proves thoroughly ineffective with an Alzheimer's case.

image from alzheimer's research.org

How do you interact with an individual who cannot relate with you, who cannot take the thread of a conversation further, who has lost all sense of their own identity? Talking to the family members is an experience in itself - one cannot but empathize with the spouse, the offspring or the other family members who can only silently and helplessly watch the progression of their patient towards complete inner withdrawal.

image by alexkalina, sxc.hu

In the midst of hopelessness comes a slew of news about recent breakthroughs that assure that science and research are indeed making some surefooted progress, albeit at a slow clip, in effective medical prevention and cure.

image by jynmeyer, sxc.hu

It has now become possible, for example, for an early diagnosis of the disease using MRIs to measure any abnormality in the size of the brain ventricles. When the tissues surrounding the ventricles in the brain begin to die and shrink, the available space is taken up by the ventricles which automatically expand. The dying process commences much earlier usually, before the "official" onset of Alzheimer's, thus giving a reliable biological marker and therefore an advanced warning to all concerned to take appropriate action - before it is late. Wouldn't be surprised therefore if this MRI scan is included in the list of "must-do" tests when anybody touches a certain critical age.

image by forwardcom, sxc.hu

An interesting drug that is rapidly crossing all milestones to reach market release is bapineuzumab (the first character in lowercase, please). This drug apparently works by washing away, or doing something equivalent, of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, said to be at the root of the Alzheimer's condition. The results of the study are likely to be presented today (July 29, 2008) at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, currently ongoing at Chicago.

ICAD 2008 image

In a creative shift of the focus away from conventional researching on ways & means of "washing away" the beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, and towards "untangling" the fibrous tangles that too characterize Alzheimer's, a nasal spray has been developed that works on the tangles and that has been found to reverse some form (amnestic) of mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to a full-blown Alzheimer's. (Uh, can use of this nasal spray also improve memory in general? Now that's a huge industry waiting, too!) But it is still early days, and more research is required, but the spray is said to be quite promising.

image by fishmonk, sxc.hu

Stay tuned in with the ICAD 2008 proceedings for more promising breakthroughs!

Image from ICAD 2008 website_*

[* Self-Portrait by William Utermohlen in 1999. This was the last self-portrait painted by the gifted artist, after he was diagnosed with the disease.]

For an interesting and hope-inspiring observation emerging from the labs in the domain of AIDS-research, click on this blog post.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

So What Kind Of Music Are You Listening To, These Days?

image by ilco, sxc.hu

In Times Of Gloom, Listen To Uplifting Music!

What was once only in the realm of hypotheses and theory, with just a semblance of evidence to back, has now been proven by overwhelming empirical data. Entertainment recommendation website TheFilter.Com says a good many Americans are now tuning in to depressing music these days: perhaps a reflection of the depressing news that is bombarding them and all of us 24X7.

image by straymuse, sxc.hu

The conclusion from the empirical observation is this: that when we have the blues, our natural propensity is to reinforce it by some more sad, soulful, melancholy music. And we actually enjoy going deeper down the spiral of self-pity and wallow-of-depression.

image by rrss, sxc.hu

Sia's "Breathe Me" song has just the sort of lyrics to help you reach there. The haunting music and that melodious voice soothes, but ironically the song as a whole is just the right, poignant setting for our mood of doom and gloom. Sia's "Breathe Me" incidentally tops the most popular depressing song in the list compiled by TheFilter.com website.

image of Sia Furler_*

[* Image of Sia Furler, who crooned the "Breathe Me" song that brought her international fame. ]

Help, I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And, the worst part is there's no-one else to blame

How true. There is no one else to blame, but me. It is in my hands to uplift my moods from the morass. It is my choice entirely to be happy.

image by mehere, sxc.hu

Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Unfold me
I am small
and needy
Warm me up
And breathe me

Yes, we need the nourishing support of understanding hearts and the warm touch of healing hands to bring us back to life. But what if there aren't any around? Oh, we summon the inner nourishment and the inner love for self to provide the support and the healing.

image by morrhigan, sxc.hu

Ouch I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found,
Yeah I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe

It is an ongoing game of life. Losing oneself again and again in the wilderness of negative thoughts and dark self-pity. Does take an effort, considerable effort in fact, to come out of the wilderness and into the light. To make an effort itself requires some effort. But it comes automatically, once we make up our mind to beat it all.

image by joey33, sxc.hu

Be my friend
Hold me, wrap me up
Unfold me
I am small
and needy
Warm me up
And breathe me

It is the "I am small and needy" that needs to be re-spun, rewoven, and reshaped into something that is more self-enhancing. What the new words should be, depends on our particular set of circumstances. But to banish such negative thoughts is a must, and if we have to beat the blues and the depressive moods, let's turn towards more uplifting tracks.

image by ba1969, sxc.hu

Here is the song. This time, listen to it with the full knowledge that it is meant to uplift you!

We aren't talking escapism here. We are simply taking a decision to be happy, and remain happy, whatever be the circumstances around us. Here is another post about another beautiful song - it never fails to uplift!

image by kliverap, sxc.hu
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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Go Easy On Your Adrenals

Adrenal Glands - wiki

Help Your Adrenals By Banishing Stress!

They look like golden-yellow crowns on the heads of the bean-shaped kidneys. How proudly the kidneys preen with the crowns on them! Their beauty belies the heavy responsibility these crowns carry on their shoulders. These small beauties are called Adrenal glands in medical parlance; and they give us the power to handle stress and strain in our life. Whatever else they do in the body, besides.

image by scol22, sxc.hu

The Adrenals are the first to take a hit the moment we encounter a stress-centric situation. In consultation with the distantly-located Hypothalamus and the pituitary, two buddies in the body-chemistry-management game, the Adrenals secrete the all-important cortisol chemical which helps us to be better prepared for handling stress, whenever we decide that the situation demands that we be stressful. Strange, yet true, that it is our decision to be stressed.

image by elisafox, sxc.hu

There are stresses and then there are stresses. One type of stress is that which is enhancing and enriching, like in confronting a situation as a challenge, thrill and excitement. The second type is debilitating and which we find difficult to resolve through our usual mechanisms of coping. These are the ones that demand huge amounts of cortisol, requiring the adrenals to burn faster.

image by ortega, sxc.hu

Poor things, there is a limit to how much you can drive them. A stage comes when they give up, and we say that "adrenal fatigue" has set in. That is when all the psychosomatic conditions begin manifesting. Google the term "adrenal fatigue", and close to four hundred thousand pages pop up on this subject.

image by float, sxc.hu

While the doctors recommend a host of therapeutic interventions to resolve the problem, the exact reasons that trigger stress are still in the realm of mystery for science. What could be extremely distressful for one person could be par for the course for another. The first person's adrenals may secrete huge amounts of cortisol, while for the other person it is hardly worth the effort. So isn't the root of stress linked to individual personalities more than it is connected with the brain's chemistry?

image by magtzedong, sxc.hu

But the second person who brushed aside the stress may have something else that gives them the goose bumps. A brave man who shoots down a lion without even getting up from bed, while we cringe away in fear; may jump from the same bed at the sight of a mouse, which we dangle before him. Any ideas why this happens?

image by vassiliki, sxc.hu

My guess about the answer to this is our thoughts. The answer also lies in our decision about which thoughts we allow to enter our mind, which thoughts we allow to dwell upon, and which thoughts we decide to discard or ignore. (Here is yet another take on this subject.)

image by buzzybee, sxc.hu

Preparing an inventory of situations where we feel the most stress in our life is a very illuminating exercise, and usually one of the first steps towards understanding oneself. For some, the stressful situations are ones when face-to-face with the elements of nature, others find the most stress in encounters with the birds and the bees and the animals of different varieties. Yet others find lot of stress in relationships in general, and relation with "that man" or "that woman" in particular.

image by eqphotolog, sxc.hu

Having consciously identified the sources of stress and having put them in notepad form on the desktop, the next step is to consciously decide that, in howsoever form we tackle the situation, we must not let stress get to us. There is some training of the mind involved here, like a preparatory course. This means that we tell ourselves to become aware of our thoughts and our breath the moment we know we are approaching what we know is going to be stressful. We tell ourselves to very consciously relax our body and slacken our muscles, repeating in the mind the thought that everything will be alright. And instead of victim-centric thoughts which make the problem looks bigger than it is, we decide to shift to thoughts of understanding, which makes the problem look small, very small. We visualize the scene of a relaxed body and a relaxed mind, with thoughts of victim-free understanding, over and over again. Nothing new here: all part of the concept of auto-suggestion.

image by fastfood, sxc.hu

And then, when the potentially stressful moment arrives, we simply play out the training we have given to ourselves! And the outcome is: that we are on top of the situation, not bogged down by it.

image by mzacha, sxc.hu

Worth trying, this simple exercise. There is no cost involved; only a matter of playing with one's thoughts. But gives your adrenals some rest and respite!

image by k_vohsen, sxc.hu
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Monday, July 07, 2008

Why The Gut Is (Still) Not Smarter Than The Head

The Crystal Ball (1902, oil on canvas), wiki_*

[* 'The Crystal Ball' (1902, oil on canvas) by John William Waterhouse, courtesy wiki]

Because It Too Requires Training, That's Why

In the world of business, people give as much importance to the power of the brain as they do to their gut feeling. Is the person sitting across the table worthy of my trust to part my money with, never mind all the paperwork that is ready in the background and that will protect me from any fraud? Should I exercise a call or a put option in my favorite commodity in today's F&O market? Should I short-cover? Or should I sit quiet today and do nothing?

image by joeyt, sxc.hu

In the matter of relationships, it is nothing but the gut feeling that one relies upon - there is very little scope for the brain to give its opinion here. Is this the person I would like to have in my life? Is this the one I should be spending the rest of my life with? Or, in another realm, is my partner lying on me? Is there a whiff of betrayal in the air? Or am I only imagining things?

image by costi, sxc.hu

And when our decisions based on the gut feeling go for a toss, we lose faith in this ability. When we realize that the person who our hunch told us would be trustworthy didn't turn out to be so; when we realize that the put option actually wiped away the margin money kept with the broker and then some -- we feel cheated by our sense of self-interest.

image by clafouti, sxc.hu

When the decisions we make in the all-important aspect of relationships turn out to lead us up the garden path, we lose our confidence in our hunches. When the realization dawns that what we had thought would be bliss turned out to be disillusionment; when we realize that the suspicion we had about our partner or spouse turned out to be wrong -- we feel let down by our sense of self-preservation.

image by giniminigi

The reason why our gut feelings quite often let us down, is to my mind simply because we never pay any attention to training it. This most important faculty that we rely upon in crunch times -- tell me, did you ever seek to train or develop it properly? While there are established institutions to educate our brains to think logically and systematically and rationally, unfortunately there is no academy in this world which teaches us how to hone our gut instincts. And which conducts an examination at the end of the course and gives us a certificate to the effect that we passed.

Largest flawless quartz sphere - wiki_*

[* Largest flawless quartz sphere, weighing about 48 kg, with a diameter of about 13 inches, is displayed at National Museum of Natural History, DC, USA. Courtesy Sanjay Acharya, wiki.]

We train our muscles through exercising and gymming to get a better body. We train our brain cells through continuous practice of whatever concepts we are focused upon. We train our mind through meditation or positive self-affirmations. In the same way, we can train our gut instinct to give us better "hunch answers". But how?

'Consulting The Oracle', wiki_*

[* 'Consulting The Oracle' (1884), John William Waterhouse. Priestesses sitting in a 'Temple of Prophesy'.]

Googling on "psychic skills" throws up close to 300,000 web pages that claim to reveal techniques that can take you to instinct development. Howsoever elaborate and obscure and convoluted these techniques may prove to be, the first step begins with taking a stand that, one, it is indeed possible to develop it, and two, we have it in us to develop it. When the cynicism is left behind, when we get off our intellectual and rational high-horse, it automatically becomes easier to train oneself into anything. Belief is a basic prerequisite.

image by sandstrom, sxc.hu

Like any other, the domain of "psychic skills" has its own set of keywords and terms. Open any book worth the salt on the subject, and the terms begin to absorb you within themselves. "Clearing or releasing negative energy", "enlightenment", "karma", "meditative states", "releasing the past", "chakras", "chakra cleaning"... you better get used to them fast.

'Seven Chakras' by Pieter Weltevrede, wiki_*

[* "Seven Chakras" by Pieter Weltevrede - courtesy sanatansociety.com.]

This is not to encourage anybody to become a clairvoyant or a "psychic medium" or healer, although it would help all of us if somebody tries and does become one. But we would be all very happy if this special training can help our own gut instinct become more perceptive enough and sharp enough to guide us in those decisive moments: whether to buy or to sell some stock or piece of property, whether to let that someone enter our heart or to keep the doors closed... If we can achieve this much, our life would be happier.

image by weirdvis, sxc.hu

[While psychic skills are special techniques that require effort to developed, epiphanies seem to come out of thin air. And they come most unexpectedly, without rhyme or reason. What is so special about these moments when the epiphanies choose to pop into our mind? Here is one article that ponders this question: "Moments Of Epiphany - Be Alert When They Come".]
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