- Your cortex
- Your hippocampus
- Your brain’s blood supply
- Cognitive reserve
- Your brainwaves
BRAIN 101 – Glossary
Hippocampus — a pair of thumb-sized brain structures that help you form new memories and consolidate them for long-term storage
Synapses — tiny gaps between brain cells where signals travel from one cell to another
Fiber bundles — super highways of the brain that connect the different regions of the brain
Cortex — the outer layer of the brain responsible for long-term memory
Your hippocampus is roughly the size of your thumb, and there is one on each side of your brain, near your ear. This pair of deep-brain structures is critical for short-term memory — like remembering names, dates, and conversations. When you learn something for the first time, new tiny synapses are formed in your hippocampus. The more you practice your new skill, the more synapses your brain cells make and the stronger they get. When you learn many new things, millions and millions of synapses are born. At some point, they — along with new fiber bundles that connect the hippocampus to other areas of the brain and new blood vessels that form to support those fiber bundles’ expansion — actually grow the size of your hippocampus.
You can grow your hippocampus is groundbreaking because science has shown, on average, the hippocampus and cortex shrink by about 0.5% per year after age 40.
The hippocampus works closely with the rest of your brain, and especially with the cortex. The cortex is the outermost layer of your brain. It’s essentially, a thick blanket of cells that covers the entire brain. The cortex is responsible for many higher cognitive functions, such as long-term memory, language making decisions, understanding abstract information, performing mathematical calculations and navigating your way when you drive. You can think of your cortex and hippocampus as operating a two-man assembly line for your memories. The hippocampus first helps you to acquire the new information and “learn” it. Then, it consolidates the information and passes it along to the cortex for long-term storage.
Understanding this connection, it should now make sense why someone may have a difficult time memorizing new names and phone numbers, but can still recall old memories, like their childhood home or something that happened in elementary school. This is the result of a breakdown in the “assembly line” between the cortex and hippocampus.
Your Brain’s Blood Supply
About one-third of your brain is comprised of blood vessels — from tiny, microscopic capillaries to large, pencil-sized pipes. If you could use an imaging technique to show only the blood vessels in your brain, this is what you would see.
Given that so much of your brain is composed of blood vessels, it’s no wonder that lifestyle choices — like adopting a proper diet that isn’t artery-clogging and staying active to increase blood flow to the brain — are so important!
Some Interesting Facts
- Your brain contains 100 billion neurons and trillions of synapses; they all need an adequate source of oxygen and nutrients from your blood.
- Your brain has an elaborate network of small and large blood vessels.
- Without enough blood, your whole brain (and especially your hippocampus) cannot function well.
- Up to 80% of strokes are preventable.
- Strokes more commonly happen in people who have vascular risk factors, such as obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea.
- Many of the medical conditions that can increase your risk of stroke (and heart attacks) — such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and a sedentary lifestyle — also can damage your hippocampus and cause memory loss with aging.
There are two qualities of your brain that can play an important role in how well your brain ages: neuroplasticity and cognitive reserve.
This term refers to the brain’s ability to change, adapt and learn new things. Our brains are changing throughout our lives — for better or worse. They are constantly reorganizing their neuronal pathways and even creating new neurons in response to the circumstances we subject them to. Neuroplasticity is the reason we can learn new skills. It helps the brain recover for injury (such as from concussion or stoke), disease and environmental changes. But it’s also the reason the brain can develop bad habits from the lifestyle choices we make, such as years of unmanaged stress and poor sleep.
The brain is its most “plastic” during early childhood. Just take a look at this image to the right to see how many more synapses and fiber bundle connections are formed from birth to three months old, and from three months to two years old.
We used to think the older brain had less “plastic” capabilities. However, evidence continues to mount that the aging brain actually may be just as plastic as the younger brain. It’s just that we’re likely not giving our brain’s access to the same types of stimuli and learning opportunities that we did when it was young.
Another term for fiber bundles, the highways of the brain.
Cognitive reserve refers to the amount of damage due to aging and diseases that the brain can sustain before a person’s cognitive abilities are negatively impacted and noticeable. The larger your cognitive reserve, the more able your brain is to operate well, even if some damage has occurred. Individuals who continue to learn new things, exercise regularly, enjoy different leisure activities, have a challenging occupation and take care of their health issues will continue to increase the number of synapses, neuronal connections, blood vessel branches and even new neurons throughout their lives. These individuals can usually stay sharp into their 80s and beyond, even if some footprints of Alzheimer’s disease, a small stroke or concussion cause injury to some parts of their brains. They also are more resilient to the effects of aging.
Genetics, as well as education and other life experiences, all factor into a person’s cognitive reserve. The “right” combination of genetics plus life experiences could tip the scale in favor of a person developing a serious memory condition or not. This is similar to the fact that a fit and strong person is more likely to resist and recover from pneumonia.
For example, when you are resting, your brainwave activity should be slow.If you are at your desk working on a deadline and ﬁnd you are zoning out, that could indicate your brain is running slowly when it shouldn’t be.
When you’re being chased by a lion, for example, you want your brain activity to be fast and for your body’s ﬁght-or-ﬂight response to kick in. However, again, if you’re at your desk trying to ﬁnish a project but ﬁnd your palms getting sweaty, your mind unable to think clearly and your heart beating quickly — it could be that your brain is running too fast when it shouldn’t be.
Our Neurofeedback will be able to improve brainwave imbalances that may be interfering your ability to perform optimally.
Correcting Your Brain’s Speed
It has been determined that the brain needs a healthy balance of fast- and slow-moving brainwave activity to function at its best. With balanced electrical activity, the brain is able to operate in a calm, focused state and is better able to “get in the zone” and be productive. A brain that is consistently running too fast or too slowly is likely to result in a host of negative symptoms.
The frontal lobes can be roughly divided between the motor areas on the top of the head, responsible for planning and directing motor movements, and the “prefrontal” areas that sit in front of the motor areas. Certain prefrontal areas are responsible for cognitive functions like paying attention, planning, problem-solving, and decision making. Other prefrontal areas are responsible for regulating emotional reactions, controlling impulses, and moderating social behavior. Dysregulation of the frontal lobes may lead to issues with any of the above functions.
The temporal lobes are responsible for auditory perception, speech comprehension, and certain aspects of visual processing (e.g. face and object recognition). Deeper regions within the temporal lobe play an important role in forming and storing new memories (e.g. hippocampus) and integrating sensory information with emotional perception and experience (e.g. amygdala). Dysregulation of the temporal lobes may lead to issues with any of the above functions.
The parietal lobes receive information from the body on touch, temperature, and pain and integrates these with visual, auditory, and motor inputs. This produces spatial awareness and coordination of movement in space (e.g., hand-eye coordination). As a hub of multi-sensory integration, the parietal lobes play a key role in reading, writing, and performing math calculations. Dysregulation of the parietal lobes may lead to issues with any of the above functions.
The primary function of the occipital lobes is related to visual processing. This region of the brain works to receive and process visual input and send signals to other regions to aid in understanding colors, shapes, and movement, among other visual processes. Tasks such as reading, writing, and spelling rely heavily on having accurate visual processing. Dysregulation of the occipital lobes may lead to issues with any of the above functions.
Delta (1 – 4 Hz)
Delta waves predominate in the deepest stages of non-REM sleep. Widespread appearance of delta during wakefulness may indicate a sleepy or drowsy state. Delta dysregulation may be associated with symptoms related to energy, sleep and cognitive function.
Theta (4 – 8 Hz)
Theta waves predominate in the state just before the onset of sleep. An abundance of theta during wakefulness may produce states of drowsiness or daydreaming. Theta dysregulation may be associated with symptoms related to inattention, impulsivity and mood.
Alpha (8 – 12 Hz)
Alpha waves predominate when the brain is in an idling state and may be associated with rest, creativity and meditation. Alpha dysregulation may be associated with symptoms of inattention, anxiety, depression and exhaustion.
Beta (12 – 30 Hz)
Beta waves predominate when awake and alert. They are associated with thinking, planning and problem solving. Dysregulation in beta brainwaves may be associated with symptoms of anxiety, rumination, inattention and hyperactivity. Beta waves may be divided into several subgroups (see below).
• Beta 1 (12 – 15 Hz)
Beta 1 brainwaves produce a calm, focused state of mind and are responsible for one’s ability to sustain that state. These brainwaves are associated with being “in the zone.” They also contribute to physical balance and coordination (when over the sensorimotor strip).
• Beta 2 (15 – 18 Hz)
Beta 2 predominates when actively involved in problem solving.
• Beta 3 (18 – 25 Hz)
Beta 3 also predominates during cognitive tasks, but may indicate too much intensity.
• High Beta (25 – 30 Hz)
High beta brainwaves may be associated with hypervigilance and activation. They may indicate that the body is more likely to be triggered by sympathetic “fight or flight” reactions, which may lead the body to respond negatively to stress. This response is adaptive in times of panic or fear; however, an overabundance in day-to-day life may produce symptoms of inattention, anxiety, rumination or poor sleep.