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How juggling rewires your brain

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on Friday, 21 January 2011
in Functional Neurology
How juggling rewires your brain | COSMOS magazine.

PARIS: Neuroscientists have discovered that learning to juggle causes changes in white matter, the nerve strands which help different parts of the brain communicate with each other.

University of Oxford researchers recruited 48 healthy young adults who were unable to juggle and put them in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner to get a cross-section map of their brain.

Half the volunteers then underwent a six-week training period to learn how to juggle, during which they were also encouraged to practice for 30 minutes a day.

At the end, they were all able to perform at least two cycles of the classic three-ball "cascade." They were then scanned again, as were their 24 non-juggling counterparts.

Among the juggling group, imaging showed important changes in white matter, the bundle of long nerve fibres that carry electrical signals between nerve cells and connect different areas of the brain. So-called grey matter consists of areas of nerve cells where the brain processes information.

The findings, published online on Sunday by Nature Neuroscience, are important, for they suggest the brain remains "plastic" - or mobile and adaptable - beyond childhood.

via How juggling rewires your brain | COSMOS magazine.

TherapyTimes.com: Occupational therapy improves ADHD

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on Wednesday, 15 September 2010
in ADD/ADHD
Preliminary findings from a study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) show that sensory intervention -- for example, deep pressure and strenuous exercise -- can significantly improve problem behaviors such as restlessness, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Of the children receiving occupational therapy, 95 percent improved. This is the first study of this size on sensory intervention for ADHD.

The Temple University researchers, Kristie Koenig, PhD, OTR/L, and Moya Kinnealey, PhD, OTR/L, wanted to determine whether ADHD problem behaviors would decrease if underlying sensory and neurological issues were addressed with occupational therapy. Their study, "Comparative Outcomes of Children with ADHD: Treatment Versus Delayed Treatment Control Condition," was presented Friday, May 13, at the American Occupational Therapy Association meeting in Long Beach, Calif.

Children with ADHD have difficulty paying attention and controlling their behavior. Experts are uncertain about the exact cause of ADHD, but believe there are both genetic and biological components. Treatment typically consists of medication, behavior therapy or a combination of the two.

via TherapyTimes.com: Occupational therapy improves ADHD.

LBP's focused sensory processing program for ADHD is a perfect fit for those looking to introduce a complete and complementary set of sensory exercises to their daily routine.

Motor Learning and Neuroplasticity in Rehabiliation

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on Thursday, 26 August 2010
in Functional Neurology
Here's another great example of neuroplasticity impacts derived from motor skills training. Cortical expressions of proprioceptive responses over time are around us every day and form the basis of the EXPERIENTIAL part of neuroplastic changes. The implications for athletic performance and rehab are tremendous and the article below gives some good insight.

Motor Learning and Neuroplasticity in Rehabiliation.

Here’s a brief summary of an excellent paper by Boudreau et al from Manual Therapy. Patrick Ward and I had a brief discussion about this paper and since we found great benefit in its contents, I thought I would share some of it with you.

The purpose of this paper was to summarize several important aspects of motor-skill training for enhancing musculoskeletal rehabilitation.

Cortical Neuroplasticity: a dynamic feature of life that encompasses functional or morphological change in properties of neurons (connection strength, represenational patterns, neuron reorganization.

  • Positive changes: improvements in motor performance

  • Negative changes: decreases in performance, such as in the presence of chronic pain (low back pain resulting in decreased cortical spinal drive in lumbar musculature and subsequent shift in somatosensory representation)

More research on cerebellum's impact on speech, language and working memory

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on Thursday, 24 June 2010
in Learning Breakthrough

A newly published article by the Department of Neurology, Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine outlines another look into the role the cerebellum plays in language development and cognition. There are many researchers investigating this part of the brain that is so deeply involved in movement and a huge variety of "automated" functions. The exact logic of how the brain uses all its various systems to divide and tackle the complex cognitive tasks it performs every day is still in its infancy. However, the efficiency of cerebellar functions and how it can be enhanced through calibrated neuro-motor and vestibular training is constantly being examined as a likely method of improving brain fitness generally and as a way to overcome specific learning challenges.

The entire article is available here: Functional Topography of the Cerebellum in Verbal Working Memory, with the abstract printed below for your convenience.

Abstract :

Speech—both overt and covert—facilitates working memory by creating and refreshing motor memory traces, allowing new information to be received and processed. Neuroimaging studies suggest a functional topography within the sub-regions of the cerebellum that subserve verbal working memory. Medial regions of the anterior cerebellum support overt speech, consistent with other forms of motor execution such as finger tapping, whereas lateral portions of the superior cerebellum support speech planning and preparation (e.g., covert speech). The inferior cerebellum is active when information is maintained across a delay, but activation appears to be independent of speech, lateralized by modality of stimulus presentation, and possibly related to phonological storage processes. Motor (dorsal) and cognitive (ventral) channels of cerebellar output nuclei can be distinguished in working memory. Clinical investigations suggest that hyper-activity of cerebellum and disrupted control of inner speech may contribute to certain psychiatric symptoms.

Vision Therapy in the New York Times Magazine - March 10, 2010

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on Monday, 19 April 2010
in ADD/ADHD

If you’re the parent of a child who’s having trouble learning or behaving in school, you quickly find yourself confronted with a series of difficult choices.

You can do nothing — and watch your child flounder while teachers register their disapproval. Or you can get help, which generally means, first, an expensive and time-consuming evaluation, then more visits with more specialists, intensive tutoring, therapies, perhaps, or, as is often the case with attention issues, drugs.

For many parents — particularly the sorts of parents who are skeptical of mainstream medicine and of the intentions of what one mother once described to me as “the learning-disability industrial complex” — this experience is an exercise in frustration and alienation.




The rest of the article describes some areas of similarity with LBP because of the program's substantial amount of vision-related activities. The balance and vestibular issues so critical to LBP are not described, but the hurdles that parents face and the ways that treatments are presented to parents, the pressures, etc. will be very strongly identified with by those who have had to walk that road.

Read the complete article on the Times website >>

Sensory Integration and Learning Development

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on Monday, 08 March 2010
in Sensory Integration & Brain Processing

Sensory Integration is a term that describes how we organize and fully process the information gathered from our senses. The study of sensory integration describes how the brain functions to instantly and automatically interpret where we are, what we see, what we feel, and what we hear in a meaningful framework. Efficient and accurate processing of sensory inputs is a key element of cognitive development and enables us to interpret abstract concepts. We assign meaning and extract value from contextual information of all kinds due to sensory integration and predictably, which is also how we learn what those meanings and values are, enabling the most basic cognitive concepts. Without well-functioning sensory processing abilities, the brain receives sensory signals that don’t get organized (integrated) into appropriate responses; which in turn leads to all sorts of challenges...including learning challenges.


But, why is it not possible for us to understand cognition by only evaluating one sense as it is necessary at the moment; why should they all need to work automatically and in unison at all times? To explain, let’s step out of the abstraction of developmental and neurological theory and into analogy.


Imagine, if you will, being present as a symphony prepares to play one of your favorite overtures. Your senses come alive; your vision tells you that they are getting ready to play as you see the woodwinds bring their instruments to their lips and your auditory senses tell you they have begun by the blast of sound that emerges on the first note. However, there is a problem—something is not quite right. Instead of hearing all of the instruments in full concert with one another, you can only hear the violins. The sounds of the other members of the orchestra are not allowed to reach your ears. Thus, what you are experiencing is much more like a solo than a symphony.  Without the support of the other instruments, what you hear is only the supplemental backdrop to a much grander tune.


Let’s take this analogy one step further. What if someone told you that the reason why you could only hear one instrument out of an entire symphony was because you simply couldn’t appreciate music—that you were incapable of knowing how to properly listen so that you could experience the full range of sounds? Chances are, this would bother you—you would instinctively know that the reason was not so simple or base. If this strikes you as an unfair thing to say, rest assured, it is. For those who lack full sensory integration and suffer from learning disabilities based on this deficit such as dyslexia, for instance, the problem has nothing to do with the subject matter to be learned (letters, words, sounds)—but is much more a matter of overcoming neurological barriers that keep sensory processes operating in isolation (i.e.- with poor levels of integration).


For anyone to fully hear the concert of sounds during a symphony or, for that matter, to adequately process the visual information of text into auditory, written, and other symbolic information, a well-calibrated set of sensory integration skills is necessary. If it is not present learning difficulties can occur simply because this relatively simple cognitive processing ability is lacking. However, it is possible for those with sensory integration problems to spark a new phase in their learning development. With proper training that orients sensory functions to the unchanging reference point of gravity, sensory integration and cognitive deficits can be overcome so that the full symphony can be heard in all its intended depth.

Importance of Balance & Sensory Integration Skills Development in Children

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on Wednesday, 03 March 2010
in Sensory Integration & Brain Processing

Balance is a multi-sensory activity. Our “sense” of balance, from the time of our embryonic development through full-fledged adulthood, is based on the proper functioning of the vestibular system in close conjunction with our visual, motor skills and positioning (proprioceptive) systems. Body position, muscular-skeletal control, tactile feedback, motor coordination and visual processing inputs all combine to form a “multi-sensory network” with many functions. This seamless system of inputs and feedback must work precisely to form what we call our sense of balance. Highly calibrated sensory integration skills are required for good balance and a range of learning, reading and other difficulties occur when the relationship between balance and our other sensory systems is upset or out of sync.


Without a well-functioning vestibular system, any child or adult will have extreme difficulty balancing on a beam or standing on one foot, for instance, but the complications certainly do not end there. Those with deficits in their vestibular function can also experience a range of other issues that are indirectly related to balance, even though we tend not to think of them in the same way we do tiptoeing along a balance beam.  With a system as complex and multifaceted as the human neurological system, the system’s basic inputs (in this case sensory) must be calibrated to an external constant (just like other complex systems are) in order to function in a measureable and repeatable fashion. Gravity, actually the acceleration of gravity as interpreted through the vestibular, is what provides this critical reference point and is what enables our senses to integrate thoroughly in reference to an unchanging environmental constant.


Although the vestibular system develops in infants, the developmental process continues throughout childhood. Around age thee, children are making the transition from vestibular control based on vision, to control that becomes somatosensory (which broadly means it is rooted in the sense of touch and sensation). “As early as the pre-school level, an in-tact vestibular system contributes to sensory integration and the maturation of eye movements that are required for efficient reading and learning.” (Solan, 2007) Without an effective transition from basic balance and sensory integration, learning and reading development (dyslexia, for example) can be significantly delayed.


Children do not demonstrate adult-like use of sensory information until they are around 12 years of age (Peterson, 2006), which means that the initial process of vestibular development extends almost into puberty. This means that there are ample opportunities available over a long period of time to help children, even those without dyslexia, ADD, ADHD and learning disabilities, improve their developmental skills. With focused efforts on improving balance and sensory processing skills, children with healthy vestibular systems can thrive and those with challenges or weaknesses in these areas can begin to improve, often dramatically.


“Therapy using a sensory integrative approach is the most common treatment for [those with sensory integration issues] and has been shown to be effective in more than 80 studies.” This type of therapy presents the child or adult with a movement activity that they are to perform while the vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile stimuli are presented. This treatment method, again with its roots in balance and sensory integration, “has been shown to improve pursuits, saccades, convergence, fusional reserves, accommodative facility, visual perception and reading skills in children with sensory integration issues and dyslexia.” (Allison, 2007) For a child without a learning disability or problems associated with sensory integration and balance issues, this type of therapy (which is similar in nature to that provided by the Learning Breakthrough Program) can enhance the skills that exist and prevent compensating sensory behaviors from forming.


Sources


Allison CL. (2007). An optometric approach to patients with sensory integration dysfunction. Optometry- The Journal of the American Optometric Association (St. Louis, Mo.), 78(12), 644-51.


Peterson ML. (2006). Children achieve adult-like sensory integration during stance at 12-years-old. Gait & Posture, 23(4), 455-63.


Solan, H. A. (2007). Vestibular Function, Sensory Integration, and Balance Anomalies: A Brief Literature Review. Optometry & Vision Development, 38(1), 13-17.


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