Brain & Life Magazine

Brain & Life Magazine is a free publication and website for patients and caregivers from the American Academy of Neurology. It covers a range of topics including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, epilepsy, concussion, Parkinson’s disease, movement disorders, neuropathy, sleep disorders, migraines and much, much more.

 

October/November 2018 Issue

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Mission Possible
The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik encourages girls and young women to love science, on and off screen. Thanks to that biology tutor, Bialik went on to UCLA after Blossom to pursue an undergraduate degree in neuroscience with a minor in Hebrew and Jewish studies, before getting her doctorate in neuroscience in 2007. But school continued to be challenging. “I was not at the top of the class in college or graduate school,” she says. She persisted, however, because science thrilled her.
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Early Clues
Researchers are making important discoveries about Alzheimer's disease from people who develop it before the age of 65.

When Mike McGuff was in college at Baylor University in Waco, TX, he made a point of calling his mom, Elizabeth, at least once a week. By his senior year, their conversations began to feel a bit “off.” Always known for her wit, vibrancy, and confidence, Elizabeth was now increasingly passive and unsure of herself. In the span of six months, she also had been let go from her longtime job as a fourth-grade teacher because she couldn't keep up.

“I didn't know what was going on,” says McGuff. “Mom thought she was depressed and started seeing a therapist.” The mystery of his mother's rapid mental decline was finally solved in September 1999, about a year after McGuff first started noticing changes in her behavior. At just 53 years old, Elizabeth was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer's disease. “I was in total shock. She was so young. I could never imagine someone getting Alzheimer's at 53. In fact, I don't think I even knew such a thing was possible.” She died from complications related to the disease five years later.
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August/September 2018 Issue

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Partners Against Parkinson's
60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl says she and her husband work together to manage his Parkinson's disease—and keep their marriage strong.
Her skills as an investigative reporter—a keen eye for detail, a relentless pursuit of the facts, and a steely resolve—have served 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl well throughout her decades-long career. More recently, she has applied those same skills to help her husband, screenwriter and journalist Aaron Latham, manage his Parkinson's disease.
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Tuning Out Pain
Chronic pain doesn't go away, but treating it wisely and learning to live with it can alter its intensity.
After hitting her head at the pool and sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury when she was 10, Valerie Biscardi developed chronic migraines and trigeminal neuralgia (nerve pain) on the left side of her face. “I'm in pain every day; it's just a matter of degree and where it is in my body,” says Biscardi, now 60, a retired public official in Long Island, NY, who also developed fibromyalgia in 2009. She manages her pain with medication and relaxation exercises and accepts that she'll never get rid of it completely. “I have to stay on top of the pain to keep it tamped down for a few hours before it ramps back up again,” she says.
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Head Drama
When Bennet Omalu, MD, identified a degenerative brain disease in NFL players, it shifted the worlds of both sports and neurology—and protocols about concussion.
Bennet Omalu, MD, MBA, MPH, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist and neuropathologist, brings an almost sacred reverence to his work. His respect toward lifeless bodies is rooted in his medical training, his deeply held Christian beliefs, and his innate compassion, arising from a childhood marked by violence and deprivation following the civil war of the late 1960s and early 1970s in his native country. “Dead people are my patients,” Dr. Omalu says. “I regard them as human beings who must be treated with dignity.” He begins an autopsy by introducing himself to his patient as any other doctor would. “I look at the face and quietly, silently speak to that person.”
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June/July 2018 Issue

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Supporting Role
Actor Courtney B. Vance cared for his mother after she developed ALS. He hopes his story will promote understanding of the disease and emphasize the need for a cure.
Courtney B. Vance, a Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor, can locate the essence of his mother's character in a single, quiet scene. He was a high school senior at Detroit Country Day School, a private college prep school. His mother, Leslie Vance, was a librarian at a neighborhood branch about a mile from their home. “I said something about her ‘little job at the library,’” Vance recalls. “She got quiet, and I recognized immediately that I'd made a mistake.” Flashing her expressive eyes, she said, “Courtney, this ‘little job’ of mine allows you to go to that damn school,” and walked away.
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The Road to Surgery
Surgery is a treatment option for several neurologic disorders. Use our guide to find out if you are a candidate, what to expect, and how to prepare.
Walter Newman was feeling optimistic as he was wheeled into the operating room for deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery to treat symptoms of Parkinson's disease in March 2014. “My surgeon had cautioned me that results were not guaranteed, but I'd watched some videos about people who had gotten wonderful results, and I assumed that mine would be just as good,” says the 67-year-old lawyer from Sumter, SC.
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Inner Peace
Meditation may help alleviate pain, fatigue, and depression, and slow cognitive decline. We take a look at the evidence.
Gwenn Herman experienced chronic pain for years after being involved in a car accident in 1996. “I developed a protruding disc in my neck that caused excruciating pain,” the 64-year-old resident of Tucson, AZ, recalls. “I tried everything—medications, injections, even surgery.” Eventually, Herman found relief through a mix of prescription pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, acupuncture, and meditation. “The latter truly saved me,” she says.
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