“Those Who Use It, Don't Lose It”
“Your brain isn’t just for thinking. Catch a baseball, turn the steering wheel, pick up a spoon - our mind controls everything you do,” explains Dr. Ezriel Kornel, New York neuro and spinal surgeon and assistant clinical professor, department of neurosurgery, Cornell University School of Medicine. He is also the director of the Institute for Neurosciences at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, NY and is affiliated with New York Presbyterian Hospital.
“The brain is considered the most vital organ, responsible for everything from involuntary life support functions like heartbeats and breathing to the essence of personality and memory. That’s why it’s so important to keep yours healthy.”
Anatomy of the Brain
The brain receives information through our five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. It assembles the messages in a way that has meaning for us, and can store that information in our memory. The brain controls our thoughts, memory and speech, movement of the arms and legs, and the function of many organs in our body. It also determines how we respond to stressful
situations, such as losing a job or planning a wedding, by regulating our heart and breathing rate.
The brain is composed of the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem.
The cerebrum is the largest part of the brain and is composed of right and left hemispheres. It performs higher functions like interpreting touch, vision and hearing, as well as speech, reasoning, emotions, learning, and fine control of movement.
The cerebellum is located under the cerebrum. Its function is to coordinate muscle movements, maintain posture, and balance.
The brainstem includes midbrain, pons, and medulla. It acts as a relay center connecting the cerebrum and cerebellum to the spinal cord. It performs many functions such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, wake and sleep cycles, digestion, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and swallowing. Ten of the twelve cranial nerves originate in the brainstem.
Right Brain - Left Brain
The right and left hemispheres of the brain are joined by a bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum that delivers messages from one side to the other. Each hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body. If a brain tumor is located on the right side of the brain, your left arm or leg may be weak or paralyzed.
Not all functions of the hemispheres are shared. In general, the left hemisphere controls speech, comprehension, arithmetic, and writing. The right hemisphere controls creativity, spatial ability, artistic, and musical skills. The left hemisphere is dominant in hand use and language in about 92% of people.
Memory is a complex process that includes three phases: encoding (deciding what information is important), storing, and recalling. Different areas of the brain are involved in memory depending on the type of memory.
Short-term memory, also called working memory, occurs in the prefrontal cortex. It stores information for about one minute and its capacity is limited to about 7 items. For example, it enables you to dial a phone number someone just told you. It also intervenes during reading, to memorize the sentence you have just read, so that the next one makes sense.
Long-term memory is processed in the hippocampus of the temporal lobe and is activated when you want to memorize something for a longer time. This memory has unlimited content and duration capacity. It contains personal memories as well as facts and figures.
Skill memory is processed in the cerebellum, which relays information to the basal ganglia. It stores automatic learned memories like tying a shoe, playing an instrument, or riding a bike.
Dr. Kornel says everyone has the occasional “senior moment.” Memory lapses can occur at any age, but aging alone is generally not a cause of cognitive decline. When significant memory loss occurs among older people, it is generally not due to aging but to organic disorders, brain injury, or neurological illness.
According to Dr. Kornel, “Studies have shown that you can help prevent cognitive decline and reduce the risk of dementia with some basic good health habits - staying physically active, getting enough sleep, not smoking, having good social connections, limiting alcohol to one drink a day, and eating a balanced diet low in saturated and trans fats.”
Below, Dr. Kornel created a simple brain bootcamp test to see how "fit" and sharp your mind is:
Dr. Kornel’s BRAIN Bootcamp: How Fit is Your Brain?
(1) Serially subtract 7 from 100. If you have trouble getting even to 72 (7 subtracted 4 times) then you may have difficulty with right-sided brain functioning or with concentration and focusing abilities involving several areas of the brain.
(2) If you are right handed, slap the palm of your left hand with the right alternating the striking between the palm and top of the right hand. Switch hands if you are left handed. See how quickly and smoothly you can do it. If you find this exercise particularly difficult than you may have a problem with coordination related and motor function.
(3) On either hand, touch the tip of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th digits to tip of thumb sequentially. Go from 2nd to 5th digit and then back from 5th to 2nd as quickly and smoothly as possible. Do it first with one hand and then the other. If you cannot do it smoothly or quickly you have a fine coordination problem affecting the motor pathways.
(4) Hold both arms straight in front of you with palms to the ceiling. Close your eyes and hold your arms there for 5-10 seconds and then open your eyes and look where your hands are. If one of them has drifted to the side and the palm is not directly to the ceiling, this may be a subtle sign of motor weakness.
(5) Read a paragraph from a story you like and then write down the gist of what you just read. If you cannot do so then have someone read it aloud to you or read it aloud yourself and see if you can then write down what you recall of it. If you cannot recall any parts of the story, you are experiencing loss of short-term memory or concept organization. If you can recall after hearing the paragraph but not after reading than you have a learning disability.
About Ezriel E. Kornel, M.D., F.A.C.S.
A principal of Brain & Spine Surgeons of New York since 1990, Dr. Kornel is in the forefront of minimally invasive neurosurgery (MIS). MIS is used to minimize the trauma of surgery and increase the speed of recovery. Stemming from his interest in microsurgery, Dr. Kornel has become an expert in minimally invasive endoscopic surgery of the spine as well as minimally invasive approaches in the surgical treatment of brain tumors. Because of his particular interest in cervical spine surgery, he is one of the first neurosurgeons in the New York metropolitan area to replace damaged cervical discs with the newly introduced artificial discs. He was trained in Stockholm in the use of the Gamma Knife and, when indicated, utilizes this stereotactic radiosurgical technique for the treatment of brain tumors as well as for the treatment of trigeminal neuralgia. He is the director of the Institute for Neurosciences at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, NY and is affiliated with New York Presbyterian Hospital.
For further information: Develops BRAIN Bootcamp to Test ‘How Fit is Your Brain?’
Dr. Kornel gained his initial expertise during his neurosurgical residency at the George Washington University Medical Center under the tutelage of Hugo Rizzoli, M.D., at the time one of the most renown and respected neurosurgeons in the world. Dr. Kornel has numerous mentions in the biography of James Brady, press secretary to President Reagan, because of his involvement in Mr. Brady’s care after his tragic gunshot injury. Highly personalized attention combined with the utmost dedication to the ultimate well being of his patients is what motivates Dr. Kornel in his efforts to continue expanding and honing his expertise.
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