Archive for March, 2009

Vision is more than an image being focused on your retina clearly with or without the aid of glasses or contact lenses. Vision is the collecting and interpreting of images, it is a process, not a mere snapshot in time. For most of us, we do not realize how much our brain affects our vision and what we see. Many of us think of ourselves as seeing with our eyes. But are you aware that as information is moved from the eye into the brain, the neural interactions of these visually-provoked signals increase exponentially and the number of neurons involved in the interpretation of what you are seeing increases from just over 1 million connections of neurons (from the retina to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the brain) to over 200 million connections of neurons (from the LGN to the visual cortex and beyond) as they reach higher cortical levels in the brain? Perhaps we should change the saying “See with your eyes…” to  “See with your brain, not with your hands” when someone asks to see something we are holding.

Amazing research is going on right now in the area they call ‘brain fitness.’ “As scientists gain more knowledge about the relationship between sensory perception, memory and cognition, they are learning to design brain exercises that strengthen brain function.” (source) Dr. Alice Cronin-Golomb, director of Boston University’s Vision and Cognition Laboratory, is studying the relationship and inter-dependence of memory and cognition to visual processing and other senses in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD)  patients. She believes that cognition and vision are closely linked and because of that “interdependence, a weakness in one is often related to—or even the cause of—a weakness in the other.” (source) Dr. Cronin-Golomb and colleagues began to focus on visual dysfunction in Alzheimer’s patients, demonstrating  that AD affects the occiptal lobe and that some of the weight loss which is common in AD patients is actually attributed to this poor visual processing in the occiptal lobe, not depression as once thought.

The occiptal lobe is the part of the brain in the back of the head where vision is processed and it is responsible for things like color perception and visual contrast. Cronin-Golomb et al. realized that if this area of the brain wasn’t working correctly, then AD patients “were probably eating less in part because they couldn’t distinguish their food from the tableware. Imagine chicken and mashed potatoes served on a white plate, with milk in a white cup. Not much contrast.” So they did an experiment, involving patients with severely advanced AD who still fed themselves. The AD patients ate significantly more food and drank significantly more liquids when the food and drink was presented in brightly colored cups and on bright plates (red and blue) vs. pale pastel or white cups and plates. The brighter colors yielded better visual contrast so the patients were able to distinguish the amount of food and drink that was left and eat more! This is such a simple visual processing aid to now help AD patients avoid the malnutrition and dangerous weight loss  they once faced. All by helping the brain to help itself and improving its ability to function properly!

Put your visual awareness to the test with the video clips below!

I think you get the picture! Seeing is believing and if you are not visually aware and alert, there is a lot going on that you might miss out on! Why not try to dust off some cobwebs in the brain and strengthen those 200+ million visual processing neuronal connections and maybe make some new ones? You may thank yourself in the long run! Stay sharp! Challenge yourself to learn new things, languages, hobbies, do crossword puzzles, suduko, play brain and memory games, checkers, scrabble! Doing so can keep your brain, eyes and body fit and keep YOU happy!

Sharpbrains.com is one of my favorite sites on the web to check out the latest news and games involving Brain fitness. I urge you to bookmark this site and use it. Who knows! You may just learn something. Also, here are the full articles that I have cited in this blog entry. A Palette for the Alzheimer’s Palate and Brain Plasticity, Brain Change.


(Photos taken from sharpbrains.com website.)


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Photo by C. Murphy

Photo by C. Murphy

Although it’s cold outside, spring is hiding right around the corner and will be here before you know it! With that warm weather comes flowers, robins and itchy, watery, red eyes, well at least for some of us. Those who suffer from Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC) know exactly what I am talking about. Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis (SAC) is triggered by an outdoor environmental allergen such as grass, pollen and/or weeds.

Your body mounts an immune response against this irritant, the side effects of this mounted attack are manifested in those bothersome symptoms of:

  • itching
  • redness
  • tearing
  • blurred vision
  • excess mucous production

If you suffer from these symptoms, your eye doctor will be able to provide relief! Once the allergen causing your discomfort is identified the best possible thing to do is to avoid coming into contact with that irritant. Since Seasonal Allergic Conjunctivitis is produced by the changing of the seasons (spring causing tree pollen, summer causing grass pollen and fall causing weed pollen), it is near impossible to avoid SAC. Who could stay indoors until winter and miss out on all the fun that warmer weather can bring?! To cope, a prescription medication for allergies may be given by your general doctor if you have problems with your sinuses and nose as well as your eyes. For the people who only experience the eye symptoms or for those who take the prescription oral medications and need a little something extra for the eyes, there are plenty of eye drop medications that are available. Some eye allergy drops require a prescription while others are available over-the-counter. Your doctor will pick one specific to your individual needs!

Talk to your eye doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing. They will examine the inner lining of your eyelids, your tear film layer (the layer of tears that coat our eyes to keep them moist at all times) and conjunctiva or sclera (the white part of the eye) to determine the severity of your eye allergies. That exam paired with a thorough investigative medical history will allow them to choose the specific method of treatment which will yield maximum relief.

Besides SAC, there is another type of allergic conjunctivitis called Perennial Allergic Conjunctivitis. With PAC, you are allergic to indoor irritants instead of outdoor irritants which is the reason for the classification of PAC lasting all year long and not just one season. Dust, insects and pet dander are examples of indoor environmental allergens.

Here are some Ways you can try to Reduce your exposure to Allergens:

  • Reduce the allergen load by minimizing places where allergens collect (keep knickknacks, unneccessary pillows, draperies and linens to a minimum).
  • Minimize carpeting; dust mites collect there.
  • Clean surfaces frequently and thoroughly including the regular washing of linens to remove dust and mold.
  • Eliminate water leaks and standing water where mold tends to grow.
  • Use mattress and pillow allergen covers.
  • Use allergen filters in your air conditioners and furnaces and clean them regularly.
  • Keep outdoor allergens outdoors by keeping windows and doors shut.
  • Avoid pet dander and clean up pet hair and areas regularly.

In addition to medication and avoiding the triggers of allergies, some patients also find comfort in placing cool compresses on their closed eyes, using artificial tears which can help flush stagnant allergens out of the eyes, and drinking more water.

Photo by C. Murphy; Old Westbury Gardens

Photo by C. Murphy; Old Westbury Gardens

See your eye doctor today so that when “Spring has Sprung” you will be ready to take a deep breath and enjoy the fresh air.


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