The wonder of the brain

My recent holiday reading included two books, both of them relating to the brain. My interest in reading these books was initiated earlier in the year after hearing a number of inspiring presentations delivered by Dr Paula Barrett, a leading psychologist who has specialised in the prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents.

Dr Barrett described a longitudinal study that focused on optimum conditions for maintaining well-being in the older generation. One of the key findings from this study was the importance of cognitive activity for maintaining optimum well-being. Scientists used to think that we are born with all the neurons we’ll ever have but we now know that the brain continues to develop throughout our lives and we can grow new neurons at any age! Use it, or you lose it.

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The relevance of all this to Dr Barrett’s work is the significant changes that take place in the brain during adolescence.  In a teenager, the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that has most to do with thinking, reasoning, logic and decision-making, is undergoing significant reconstruction.  This is all described very well in a simple book written for teenagers called “Blame my brain” by Nicola Morgan. It explains the typical changes that occur in adolescents and the fact that the brain is responsible for many of these changes, not hormones alone.

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I was quite excited by the knowledge that neurons can be activated at any age and it led me to think about how neuroscience might help people with learning difficulties. A few weeks later I heard about the Arrowsmith program which is founded on the principles of neuroscience. The founder of the program, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young is the author of the book “The woman who changed her brain”. The book is a great read and I would love to know more about the program.  I see that Silkwood School in Nerang is launching the Arrowsmith program in Term 4 and are holding an information session in July. Arrowsmith-Young herself is coming to Brisbane for the Writers Festival in September.  I think I’ll go – I’m curious, intrigued and would like to learn more.

Joanne Wood – Educator

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