Deadly earthquakes: One aspect of what it's like for the survivors

A series of strong earthquakes in southwestern China in September 2012 has left at least 80 people dead, over 800 injured, and over 200,000 relocated, with the effects of the quake rippling out to at least 700,000 people within 2 days of the 2 initial quakes. A young couple after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Japan grapple with the enormity of re-creating both a literal and figurative sense of home.

A 2009 imaging study [1] of the brains of survivors of the deadly 2008 earthquake in China confirms what earlier psychological studies have concluded: Many of the thousands affected by the quakes will carry with them emotional scars that they will struggle with for many years afterward in the process of rebuilding their lives. .

And with this study, the 'scars' are visible enough to see that the trauma of a quake has long term effects on the brain that were previously only conjectured:

Parts of the brain affected by earthquake trauma[1]

An earthquake that involves the loss of limbs, livelihood, loved ones, and/or a home produces 'assaults' on these 5 parts of the brain.

animation of the insula, caudate nucleus, hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebellum


caudate nucleus




(not shown - anterior cingulate cortex)


Weight lifting: It's not just for young jocks anymore

In the elderly (including women) it excels at reducing the risk of falls, and excels at limiting the decline of cognitive abilities such as reasoning, recognizing, intuiting, and problem solving.


The brain accurately or inaccurately sending a command to the muscle to contract Since about 30% of people 65 and older fall at least once a year [Liu 2004], balance and stability is a big deal to them. About half the people in the over-65 group fall recurrently [Liu 2004] and because the falls often result in fracture or other disabilities, they can make the difference between being able to live on one's own or not.
And cognitive decline can be equally disabling. "In 2000, Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementias were the third most expensive health care condition in the USA, preceded only by heart disease and cancer" [Liu 2009].

Consider then, that a study in 2004 [Liu2004] found that resistance training improves agility and balance more effectively than traditional training that is specific for agility and balance!
And a clinical trial [Liu-A 2010] in 2009 by the same author found that a once-per-week resistance training group scored 13% better on the Stroop test of cognition than a matched group given twice-weekly balance-and-tone-training! more....

Placebos for depression:

How could placebos have an effect on the deep anguish of depression?

One reason, according to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry [1], is because Prozac and placebos for Prozac have very similar effects on the brain:

Both INcrease activity in these 5 areas of the brain (hover to enlarge):

And both Prozac and placebo DEcrease in activity in these 5 areas of the brain:


Depression: talk or pills?

Which works best for getting rid of depression: hope for the best from a pill, or talking to a shrink?

The answer to this, according to recent research [1] won't surprise you (the answer is to do both), but the reason for it may surprise you. It has to do with a battle of sorts between two very different parts of the brain: the amygdala and the PreFrontalCortex (PFC) .

Both are involved in the severe hopelessness, helplessness, sadness and sometimes suicidal impulses that plague people with depression. The lifetime prevalence of depression in the US is 16% of the population, which means that 32-35 million Americans will likely battle this disease at sometime in their lifetimes.

Fortunately, there is a recent clue from research on the disease which brings a spark of beauty to the understanding of it


How come even bright people can be 'fooled' by placebos?


The ability to respond to a placebo is something that many believe is a mark of gullibility and something that others may be capable of -- certainly not oneself. A humorous and very illustrative example of this bias -- and an example of just how unconsciously powerful a placebo can be -- comes from a Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and placebo researcher (James Campbell), who tells of a mentor's anecdote that was a seminal influence on Campbell's attitude toward placebos... (more)

How could a placebo for a painkiller actually kill pain?

The 'drama' -- the seemingly magical disappearance of pain -- that occurred in the body of the surgeon-patient in the post just above this has two separate, invisible but dramatic acts: the expectation of relief and the experience of it.

Act 1: Anticipation or expectation

The "stars" of Act 1 are the surgeon's prefrontal cortex (PFC), PFC_3d which orchestrates thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals, and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) Anterior Cingulate Cortexwhich is involved in processing emotion and motivation.... (more...)


Parkinson's Disease: Placebos may be effective for pain, but can they work on a really serious illness?

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer's ability to move, talk, and to do many other things that use big or small muscles in the body. It results from the brain having too little of the chemical that's necessary for sending commands to the rest of the body to move.

In one study [3], a placebo for a standard Parkinson's treatment resulted in an increase in physical agility in some of the Parkinson's patients that was comparable in magnitude to a therapeutic dose of the standard treatment. more....

Alzheimer's and Capgras: What can be done about the impostors surrounding my mother?

One of the most fascinating 'how the mind works' curiosities is the way that our minds sense that someone is an impostor. On the 3rd day of a recent visit to my Alzheimer's mother and caregiving father, a casual dinner table conversation turned to the subject of their mothers, and I commented that I couldn't remember what their mothers' maiden names were. My father told me his mother's and then gently helped mother recall her mother's. I said "Oh, OK," and went on eating, until my mother very politely turned to me and said, " And what is your mother's maiden name?"(more...) question-mark-w-person.png

Is there an environmental factor in Alzheimer's Disease?

"Genes load the gun and environment pulls the trigger." Unfortunately, in the case of Alzheimer's, geneticists are on only just beginning to piece together how the gun is loaded, and they are even less certain where the trigger is. But what they have found out about possible triggers has such a familiar enough ring to it -- since many of the factors have already been established in other diseases -- that the findings make for a fascinating story. (more....)

Could Alzheimer's be influenced by something so ordinary as chronic stress?

According to the August 2008 Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews there is a significant probability of that. The issue has a lengthy summary of over 12 years of research by many different labs that points to a clear link between stress, particularly in early development, and an increase in the risk of Alzheimer's [Pardon 2008] -- a neurotoxic disease that afflicts almost half of the US population (in particular) by age 85 and "some recent studies estimate that it is now the fourth most common cause of death in the developed world" [Ryman 2006]. The thrust of this article is that chronic stress increases sensitivity to stress and increases vulnerability to Alzheimer's as well.


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