The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual
Today, more of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual than monolingual. In addition to facilitating cross-cultural communication, this trend also positively affects cognitive abilities. Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.
Play, Stress, and the Learning Brain
In this article, adapted from Dr. Sam Wang and Dr. Sandra Aamodt’s book Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College (Bloomsbury USA, 2011; OneWorld Publications, 2011), the authors explore how play enhances brain development in children. As Wang and Aamodt describe, play activates the brain’s reward circuitry but not negative stress responses, which can facilitate attention and action. Through play, children practice social interaction and build skills and interests to draw upon in the years to come.
Re-opening WindowsManipulating Critical Periods for Brain Development
The brain acquires certain skills—from visual perception to language—during critical windows, specific times in early life when the brain is actively shaped by environmental input. Scientists are now discovering pathways in animal models through which these windows might be re-opened in adults, thus re-awakening a brain’s youth-like plasticity. Such research has implications for brain injury repair, sensory recovery, and neurodevelopmental disorder treatment.
Repairing the Injured BrainWhy Proper Rehabilitation Is Essential to Recovering Function
Recovery from a brain injury is a slow process with no obvious end point—a practical dilemma for patients, caregivers, and medical professionals. While research continues to advance the field to determine optimal interventions,front-line providers have found that certain rehabilitation environments and procedures encourage a stronger recovery than others. But even as specialized facilities make strides, many people face barriers to adequate care. Complementary article to "The Neurobiology of Brain Injury"
A Future Without Chronic PainNeuroscience and Clinical Research
Chronic pain affects 1.5 billion people worldwide, an estimated 100 million of whom live in the United States. Yet we currently have no effective treatment options. Fortunately, research advances have determined some of the ways in which chronic pain changes the brain, and several promising research areas could lead to better treatment approaches. Dr. David Borsook recommends steps to facilitate these new treatments, including the establishment of integrated clinical neuroscience centers bridging the gap between bench and bedside.
Biomarkers and the Future of Treatment for Depression
There is currently no way to determine which antidepressant will work best for a given patient, which means that many people continue to suffer while their doctors try a series of medications. Many researchers have now focused their efforts on developing biomarkers for depression—tests for aspects of a patient’s physiology that can predict a clinical outcome. In the future, doctors may be able to screen patients to determine which treatment options will work for them, reducing the time a patient must continue to live with the effects of depression.
The Role of Stress in Brain DevelopmentThe Gestational Environment’s Long-Term Effects on the Brain
During gestation, the fetal brain develops dramatically as structures and connections form, providing the foundation for all future development. Exposure to maternal stress can sometimes have deleterious effects on the fetus, depending on the cause, timing, duration, and intensity of stress. Fortunately, postnatal interventions, such as a secure parent-infant bond and an enriched environment, can buffer the potential negative consequences.
A New Approach to Rheumatoid ArthritisTreating Inflammation with Computerized Nerve Stimulation
Doctors currently treat rheumatoid arthritis, a crippling autoimmune disease, with an arsenal of drugs that, while often effective, can have serious side effects. Authors Ulf Andersson and Kevin J. Tracey describe a circuit between the immune system and the nervous system that enabled development of an implanted nerve stimulator to treat the disorder, now being tested by a patient in Bosnia. If further clinical trials show as much promise as this initial case, similar devices may be developed for a broad range of inflammation-related diseases, from diabetes to congestive heart failure.