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Glen Campbell “I’ll Be Me” Movie Documents His Final Years With Alzheimer’s Disease

Country music legend Glen Campbell is dying of Alzheimer’s disease. In an effort to raise awareness of the illness he and his family made the brave decision to bare their lives by creating a documentary of Glen’s farewell tour. I highly recommend that you watch this film with your loved ones… and a box of Kleenex.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Glen’s disease was the preservation of his musical abilities despite severe cognitive impairment. Although he rarely knew where he was or even how to tie his shoes, he was able to perform songs in front of live audiences. With redirection and prompting, he managed to participate in 151 concerts across the United States within the span of ~18 months. Accompanied by his gifted guitarist son and daughter, and his doting fourth wife Kim, Campbell was able to maintain his musical self for longer than his physicians ever anticipated.

The documentary held nothing back – from violent outbursts brought on by paranoid delusions of golf club theft, to inappropriate table manners, to hypersexuality triggered by too high a dose of Aricept – the trials and tribulations of being a caregiver for someone with dementia were painfully acute. In brief moments of insight, Glen himself would manage to stammer a “Thank you. For being so nice to me. I have been an ass.”

One of the saddest moments of the movie was a brief clip of his daughter testifying before congress. She explains that memories are what lives are made of – and that although she is holding fast to the memories made with her dad, she knows that soon he will not even know who she is, and that their time together will be meaningless to him. Campbell listens silently next to her with a pained expression and misty eyes.

The movie’s final song, artfully strung together from clips of Glen singing repeat phrases into a studio mic, is haunting:

“I’m Not Going To Miss You”

I’m still here, but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you.
Not gonna miss you.
I’m never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You’re never gonna see it in my eyes
It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry
I’m never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I’m not gonna miss you
I’m not gonna miss you

Alzheimer’s is a terrible, cruel disease. I share the frustration of the Mayo Clinic neurologists who treated Glen Campbell – unable to do much more than simply document his decline and mentally prepare his family for the next stages of the disease. To all those who are taking care of people with Alzheimer’s I offer my sincere admiration and respect. To those who face a genetically higher-than-average chance of contracting the illness (such as myself), I tremble and hope for a cure.

Why Pumping Iron Is Great For Brain Cells

In my last post I told you that I would reveal the one thing you can do to have a significant, positive and lasting effect on your brain health as you get older. See if you can spot it in the following list:

a) Learn to dance Gangnam style
b) Join a choir
c) Catch a wave
d) Pump some iron

Ok, that was a trick question. All of these answers are somewhat correct, but I was looking for the “most” correct answer (flashbacks to undergrad, anyone?): Pump some iron.

I realize I sound like a broken record – I’ve already written about how aerobic exercise can promote healthy aging here and here, and I’ve even already written about resistance training, or lifting weights, here.

So why am I at it again? Because it’s important!

I’m fresh out of the 2012 Aging and Society Conference, where researchers came together to discuss what works and what doesn’t when it comes to healthy aging. It turns out everyone pretty much agrees that exercise is hands down the most effective intervention to keep your brain cells happy into old(er) age. All sorts of different types of exercise, ranging from simply walking to attending resistance training classes, are associated with different types of improvements in cognition, memory, and even brain size.

Of course, there are different levels of effort involved with different types of exercise, or even when talking about a single form of exercise. When my friend Jess asks me to go for a walk, she means a power walk: it usually involves going up hills, sweating like a pig (even though pigs, ironically, don’t sweat much), and barely having enough breath for girl talk (though somehow we always seem to find it). When my friend Al and I go for a walk, what he means is a “mosey”: we stop to look at the view, pet the dog, chit chat with strangers, and have more than enough breath for lengthy discussions about life, work, and the possibility of alien lifeforms. When it comes to brain health, whether you’re walking or pumping iron, a little sweating and effort can go a long way. For example, resistance training has been proven to be most effective when the load, or how much weight you are working with, increases over time. So kick the intensity up a notch: there will still be plenty of time for chit chat around a post-exercise, antioxidant-rich mug of matcha (my new obsession – stay tuned).

Now that the obvious has been (re)stated, I want to take this opportunity to discuss the idea that perhaps lifestyle interventions such as exercise could be prescribed by your doctor. We know that exercise can improve cognition in aging but also conditions like depression. Should physicians prescribe lifestyle changes? Or are diet, exercise, and other lifestyle activities choices we should make ourselves? How would you feel if your doctor prescribed you exercise instead of pills? Would you be more motivated to exercise if the prescription came from your doctor instead of from your friendly Internet science blogger? Your thoughts in the comments!


Dr. Julie Robillard is a neuroscientist, neuroethicist and science writer. You can find her blog at

Can Brain Games Make You Smarter?

Can we “train” our brains to be brighter, sharper, faster?

A while back I wrote a post about a big study looking at “brain training”. The researchers wanted to know whether training programs that look like video games (like Brain Age andLumosity) could significantly improve brain performance on various tests. The results, in a nutshell, showed that while participants improved on the tasks they trained on (e.g., if the game involved ranking balls from smallest to biggest, the participants got *really* good at ranking balls from smallest to biggest), the improvement didn’t carry over to general brain function.Turns out ranking ball sizes doesn’t help you remember where you left your keys this morning.

Two years later, what’s the word?

I’m going to shift a little from how I normally do things (review a single article) and tell you about findings I learned about at the recent Aging and Society conference. At the conference, several researchers talked about brain training in the context of aging. We know that as we get older our cognitive abilities decline – we forget names and words, misplace our shopping lists, and process information a little bit more slowly. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could just spend ten minutes a day playing games on our iPad and successfully counter this decline? Of course it would be fantastic. Not just for us, but also for the companies who are trying very hard to convince us to buy their products to improve our cognition.

The problem is that skills are specific. If you want to become a fabulous jazz pianist, you have to play the piano (preferably jazz songs, too). If you want to become a star ballet dancer, you have to practice ballet. If you want to become a better mountain biker, you have to mountain bike – road biking will improve your leg strength and fitness, but ultimately it won’t make you a better mountain biker. So why should things be any different for brain skills?

As it turns out, they aren’t. Two years later, nearly all the research conducted in the field of brain training is turning up the same results: people only get better at the tasks they trained on – the improvement doesn’t cross over to more general skills, different skills, or everyday life. In one study, a researcher compared a commercially available brain training program with what she called an “active control” – a group that simply played regular video games like Tetris. She found that the group who spent time on the commercially available brain training program actually saw some aspects of their cognition decline compared with the control group. Bummer.

Now don’t throw out your Brain Age game yet – everyone at the conference agreed that engaging your brain in training programs is better than not doing anything. And most of the researchers felt that while the programs don’t work now, it’s not to say they’ll never work. We are increasingly more knowledgeable about how the brain works, what happens when we get old, and what different training tasks do. So it’s quite possible that sometime in the near-ish future (don’t ask me when) we could see the advent of brain training programs that do have a significant and lasting impact on cognition.

Until then, there is one thing you can do to have a significant and lasting impact on your brain health… And I’ll tell you in the next post.


Dr. Julie Robillard is a neuroscientist, neuroethicist and science writer. You can find her blog at

Neuron Transplants Help Obese Rats To Lose Weight

7c76dhu5 Completing the Circuit to Curb ObesityObesity is the most significant chronic healthcare crisis facing the United States, as well as other countries. Already 1 out of every 3 adults, and 1 out of every 6 children or adolescents, in the U.S. is obese! Leptin is a hormone that has received considerable attention since its discovery in 1994 for its role in regulating metabolism (like a thermostat, or adipostat) and implications for obesity. High leptin levels are associated with feeling satiated and an active metabolism. Though many overweight people have high levels of circulating leptin, it’s been found that their hypothalamic neurons do not receive the signal – a phenomenon known as “leptin resistance.” An animal model that mirrors this is db/db mice, which lack leptin receptors on the surface of they hypothalamic neurons and are therefore morbidly obese (see image).

Reporting in Science this past week, researchers at Harvard Medical School transplanted neurons with the leptin receptor into the hypothalami of db/db mice and as a result were able to partially restore leptin sensitivity and ameliorate their obesity. Two to three months after transplanting 15,000 (a relatively small number) fluorescently-tagged, leptin sensitive neurons into the db/db mice hypothalami, they observed statistically significant drops in blood sugar levels, leptin concentration, and fat mass. In terms of the mechanism and implications, the team concludes: Read more »

Cerebral Vasculitis Occurring With A Corpus Callosum Infarction

Cerebral vasculitis is a known cause of ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes and has been described as one of the rare but important causes of corpus callosum infarction. Biopsy-proved giant cell arteritis causing callosal infarction is an exceedingly rare finding because a tissue specimen is usually not obtained and conclusions are drawn on the basis of clinical and radiologic findings alone. We present a case of callosal infarction, which evolved and eventually affected large portions of both cerebral hemispheres.

A 63-year-old woman presented to our hospital with left-sided numbness and neglect, cognitive changes, and apraxia. One month earlier, she was found to have a C-reactive protein level of 8.0 mg/dL (normal <0.5 mg/dL) and 75% stenosis in both femoral arteries. These results prompted Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at AJNR Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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