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.


April/May 2019 Issue


Actress Rita Wilson, Ambassador for the Alzheimer's Association
After her mother died of Alzheimer's disease, actress Rita Wilson volunteered to raise awareness and funds on behalf of others with the illness. A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in 2010 was traumatic for Wilson and her siblings. "Being so close to her, seeing her slip away, it was a slow grieving process for our relationship, for her, for that inevitable day in the future," Wilson says. "My mother became like a child, and I became like the parent. The hardest things to witness were her inability to be herself and the loss of her sense of humor."
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Transitioning to Assisted Living
Moving to an assisted living facility can be stressful. These tips will help make the move as smooth as possible. When Carolyn Polchow and her siblings approached their mother with the idea of her moving into an assisted living facility, the matriarch's response was a firm no. Catherine Moore, then in her early eighties, had lived in her San Diego home since 1960, but she was beginning to show signs of dementia. She was getting lost walking around her neighborhood, not going to exercise classes because she'd forgotten how to get there and often refusing to allow a private caretaker into the house, thinking the woman was a stranger.
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Can Tai Chi May Improve Balance and Quality of Life?
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that incorporates breathing, visualization, and specific movements called forms. Some experts say it may be an effective therapeutic tool for people with neurologic disorders. Several studies have found that tai chi can help with balance, reduce the incidence of falls, and enhance the quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and stroke. For example, a 2018 review published in the Journal of Rehabilitative Medicine said that tai chi may improve walking in the short term among stroke survivors. And a 2017 analysis published in Parkinsonism and Related Disorders noted a potential benefit of tai chi for improving mobility, depression, and quality of life for people with Parkinson's disease.
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February/March 2019 Issue


Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM)
Actress Marilu Henner has a highly superior autobiographical memory, a rare condition identified in only 100 people worldwide. This trait spurs her to advocate for more funding for brain research. For most people, such vivid memories are usually associated with major life events—your wedding day or the day your child was born—or traumatic moments like where you were when you heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center. Memories of our lives are typically like impressionist paintings, forming an overall picture from a distance but blurry when we try to zoom in and look at specifics.
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How Improvisational Techniques Help Engage Dementia Patients
In the years after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, Karen Stobbe remembers listening to a Beatles song and hearing her mother tell her she had dated one of the musicians. Stobbe's initial urge was to dispute her mother's claim as impossible. Instead, she recalled her training as an improvisational actor and replied, “Yes, and tell me which one you dated? What was that like?”
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2019 Brain Health Fair
The Brain Health Fair, a free public event brought to you by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN), the world's largest association of neurologists and neuroscientist. This year's event will be held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Thursday, May 9, 2019. The Brain Health Fair is perfect for families, school groups, people with brain or nerve disorders (the convention center is wheelchair accessible), and anyone interested in brain health.
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December/January 2018-2019 Issue










Humor in a Brain Tumor
Comedy duo Jeannie and Jim Gaffigan say love and laughter have helped them survive the bumps in Jeannie's recovery from a mass near her brainstem.
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Marijuana as Medicine
Researchers do not fully understand how the endocannabinoid system works, but they know it affects many of the body's systems, including the nervous, cardiovascular, reproductive, endocrine, and immune systems. The marijuana plant has more than 100 cannabinoids, compounds chemically similar to the endocannabinoids our bodies produce. These cannabinoids can interact with receptors in the human nervous system, including those in the brain, and play a part in how neurons communicate with one another.
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Comeback Kid
Daniel B. Grossman returned to work within months of a spinal cord injury, thanks to a positive attitude and rigorous physical therapy.
He was airlifted by helicopter to a trauma center in Minneapolis, where he underwent trauma protocol, including a CT scan, which confirmed his suspicions: In falling off his bike, Grossman had fractured his thoracic spine (the series of vertebrae that house a large, complex area of the nervous system between the neck and lower back), a spinal cord injury that would confine him to a wheelchair.
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October/November 2018 Issue


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


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


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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