Are Our Brains A Match For Modern Technology?

Have you ever stopped to think about how many passwords are in your head?

It’s something that they never thought to teach us in school, but then how could the teachers of the past know how complex, awe inspiring and distracting the 21st century would be for everyone?

As we find ourselves wading deeper and deeper into the 21st century, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that many of us are woefully unprepared for how to deal with the technological demands of a constantly changing world that throws new challenges at us everyday. Quite simply, we haven’t been equipped with the skills that we need to do cope in this strange new world, but do we have a choice to ignore them?

The following innovations have proven to be as useful to us as damning – could you live without any of the below? Or is your life currently being ruined by your reliance on one of them?

Social Media

When Facebook first started picking up steam back in 2008 no one could have predicted how all-encompassing it was going to become. Today Facebook has 2.27 million active users who use the social network for a massive variety of activities including shopping, organising events and getting in touch with old friends. None of these things are problematic by their nature, but having access to this massive network and being able to keep tabs on the activity of so many people at once has thrown a huge number of variables into an already uncertain world.

Smart Phones

The technological lynch-pin for the majority of users is currently the smart phone. As these devices have grown and developed companies have found more ways to engage consumers with them, unfortunately this has led to vulnerable people falling susceptible to addictions. Whereas gambling addictions have been well documented, we are yet to see a full breadth of studies that take into account the effect of mobile apps, social media apps and messaging platforms such as Snapchat on the brains of those using them.

Unlimited Streaming

It’s easy to forget how much technological progress has been made in the fields of technology when there are so many television shows to watch. Although there have been great leaps in the design of AC-DC power supplies and medical equipment, a large percentage of the world couldn’t care less as long they can binge watch a TV show for hours on end. Whilst the streaming giant Netflix might well be under threat from new contenders, we are still unsure about how the introduction of such easy entertainment has on consumers.

Hypochondria & Self-Help

The internet is a gateway to limitless knowledge, but not all of this information is ready to be processed and understood by normal people. A lingering stomach ache or even a particularly sore headache could quite easily be misconstrued and used as a diagnosis for a wide range of life-threatening illnesses, making the internet a dangerous place for anyone who has even the slightest hypochondriac tendencies.

Risk of Quacks and Misinformation

One of the greatest downsides to the internet is also one of it’s benefits. Thousands of people have the freedom (more or less in certain countries) to upload any kind of content that they choose. Unfortunately there is no ‘gate-keeper’ to content online and it can be all too easy for people to upload incorrect information that could mislead readers. This kind of misinformation has proven to be incredibly divisive in respect to politics and has yet to be explored fully by scientists.

Marrying Marketing Technology and Neuroscience

The 21st century can often be a bewildering place to explore as a both a patient and a practitioner.

Dealing with a neurological disorder can often lead to more than just a headache, especially if you try to seek your answers online. Doctors and practitioners are rarely spared these difficulties, in fact the internet can often throw more obstacles than solutions at doctors and scientists who are trying to get to the bottom of a confusing neurological mystery. We’ve had a chat with a few scientists and asked them about how the internet affects them; the good and bad.

Things that can help us:

Digital marketing agencies

For any private medical practice or hospital, an efficient digital marketing agency is a must-have. Our sector is rarely one that is short on cash, but we still rely heavily on traditional advertising methods. In Merseyside, on particular private hospital has made great strides by hiring a marketing agency in Liverpool to handle their website. A digital agency can optimise your website, help you appear in the search engines and also manage your online reputation.

NHS Website

Although we’re not constantly drawing from this resource on a day-to-day basis, the NHS website is an invaluable tool for educating patients. Unlike the myriad of unhelpful, contradictory health based websites out there, the NHS site is constantly updated with relevant information that is laid out in an easy to read format. This site is also full of great tips for those looking to lead a healthy lifestyle and avoid the pitfalls of bad habits.

Transparent and honest reviews

The internet offers us the opportunity to leave reviews on almost anything imaginable: televisions, movies, neurological surgeries. It seems bizarre, but consumers have now been given the final say in determining many hospitals’ and doctors’ futures. Although there are certainly negative ways that this can work out (see below), the upside of this is that if you or your team are doing a good job then this should reflect in your reviews.

Things that can often confuse us:

Medical advice sites

These are often the bane of doctors and nurses lives. Whilst the internet has provided us with a real opportunity to share our knowledge and grow as individuals, there’s also the opportunity for misinformation to worm it’s way in. Thanks to the huge amounts of money that can be made from advertising on websites many medical sites vie for attention online, unfortunately this competition can often lead to misleading articles. Worried patients can often change their minds concerning treatments or question their doctors altogether when presented with this conflicting information.

Unhelpful reviews

Although honest, transparent reviews can help private patients get a clear picture of a particular institution might be like, the openness of the internet means that occasionally a biased, or unfair review will slip through the gaps. Patients who feel like they’ve been mistreated can damage a doctor or hospital’s reputation by leaving reviews or comments on their website, or even leaving abuse on forums. It’s nigh on impossible to stop people from doing this, so the only thing we can do to prevent this from happening is by regulating our service and ensuring that we have an open line of communications with our patients.

Scammers & fraudsters

Finally, it’s a sad truth that there are bad people in this world who would seek to benefit from others’ misfortune. Online scammers can use email and social networks to approach people who are sick with ‘miracle cures’ or other such things that promise a quick fix to their medical ailments. Although the patient might feel like the offer is too good to be true, their desperation to get well will inevitably push a handful into the hands of these criminals. Old and lonely people are often the victims of such crimes, education and involvement of the police is the only way we can fight against these con-artists.

From Vodka Luge to Hospital Ward

My story starts with a party and ends with a hospital bed, but not for the reasons that you might expect.

There are some neurological conditions that linger in the brains of its victim for years, undetected as they are, these conditions can slowly work their way through the body until they rear their ugly head and create massive complications for the individual involved. This is exactly what happened to me and if it wasn’t for a series of events taking place I might well have never discovered anything about the condition that was lingering in my head for years. It might sound strange to be thankful of being in a hospital bed, but I’d much rather be here than in a coffin!

I wasn’t particularly psyched about my 18th birthday party. I understood that it was meant to be a big deal, that it signified a huge landmark for me that and that I was about to move from childhood into adulthood, but for some reason I just couldn’t get thrilled about the idea. At some point during the year leading up to my birthday I’d developed a kind of terminal apathy towards the world. It had begun with a series of bad grades in school. I’d always received good marks in all my subjects. Throughout secondary I found myself drifting through classes often achieving very little in my classes during the course of a day, but somehow I’d come through when it came to the exams. Things were a little different when it came to my A-Levels…

I met a whole range of different people when I arrived at college. Much to my surprise I met a number of people who were just like me: underachieving individuals who were quietly getting away with doing as little as possible whilst still getting good grades. I quickly bonded with this group of like-minded teenagers. We were united by a love for sarcasm and a mutual dislike for ‘try-hards‘. We were an invisible group, unnoticed by all other groups and would repeatedly be found in the local parks surreptitiously passing joints and snickering to each other. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why my grades were beginning to slide.

My parents were blissfully unaware of how much I was coasting. They assumed that I was studying in my room, when in reality I was playing video games. When I was out late they thought I was at a friend’s house, rather than at a local pub. They were still coasting off the success of my GSCE results. Having not forced to me into any kind of revision they felt that I must have been some kind of child savant all along. They planned my 18th birthday party as a celebration of both my success as well as their own. No expense was spared. Vodka luges were carved, food was prepared and guests were invited to what was expected to be the party of the year – but amidst all this preparation and anticipation, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed.

On the night of the party I was given free reign to drink as much as I like, my parents wanted my friends and I to celebrate, but they didn’t expect us to drink the bar dry. I woke up the next morning in a hospital bed being told that my stomach had been pumped and that I had a neurological condition. If it wasn’t for that night of excessive drinking and the subsequent months before it this condition would no doubt have lingered unnoticed until it was too late – now I have a chance of treating it.

A Layperson’s Guide To Neuropathology

Explaining the science of Neuropathology to a lay person can often be a difficult task.

The field is fraught with technical jargon, involves complicated processes and can often have serious health implications. It’s part of a patient-facing health worker’s responsibility to be able to effectively explain all kinds of conditions in a clear concise manner and simultaneously make them (and their family) as comfortable as possible living with this information. Communications with patients can be difficult, especially when the condition that you’re trying to explain happens to affect their ability to understand you.

These videos offer a guide to health professionals who are looking for new ideas for communicating to patients, whilst they should not be used as an exact reference they can nonetheless be useful in informing you about the tone of voice and vocabulary that might be effective in successfully explaining a complex neurological condition to lay person:

Ependymoma explained

In this straight forward video a complicated condition is visualised and explained with real clarity. Although some technical jargon is used which might be confusing to a layperson, it’s worth considering visualising your explanation like this video so that your patient understands as much as possible.

Alzheimer’s Disease

This video uses a popular form of animation in order show the links and causality between their points. As with many medical topics, to fully explain the subject you may need to start with ‘the basics’ before getting to the more complex parts.

The Science of Lewy Body Dementia

SciShow’s presenter is clear and precise with his explanation, he also leverages humour to make his talk engaging and interesting. Whilst we can’t recommend using humour in your communications it’s worth considering how you come across to your patient – are you being open and friendly? Are you giving the patient the opportunity to ask questions?

Parkinson’s Disease

This is a much more traditional interpretation of presentation. Simple powerpoints are used with basic symbols to illustrate the narrator’s points. Simple signs like arrows and symbolic representations of complex subjects can be an effective tool for breaking down a complicated matter to a lay person.

Idiopathic Hypersomnia

This video is a straight-forward live-action take on explaining a condition. In this example a doctor explains from across his desk and talks to the camera as if they were a patient, a decidedly more naturalistic approach that heavily relies on the intelligence of the viewer.

October’s Neuropathology Update

MRI scans & pregnancy and Lewy Body Disease is new threat to contact sports players…

Pregnancy & MRI Scans: Behind the Headlines

In our first update we highlighted one brain scientist’s response to the misleading headlines in the American media concerning the correlation between CTE and American Football. News today is delivered to us through an alarming number of different avenues and, as such, it can often be difficult to make sense of what can often be an alarming amount of conflicting information. Where once the old adage used to go: ‘Don’t trust everything you read in the papers’, you’re better off lopping off the end of that to read simply: ‘Don’t trust everything you read.’ Whilst many are wise enough to take news from tabloid sources with a pinch of salt, other sources have more trust and can often be considered as gospel by certain readers.

The NHS has been running a series of blogs under the banner ‘Behind the Headlines’ in a bid to fact check the news and (hopefully) dissuade readers from making drastic decisions in relation to their health as a result of one persuasive article. We’ve done a little rooting around in their archives and discovered a particularly interesting piece from December 2016 concerning this headline: “Detailed MRI scans should be offered to some women in pregnancy to help spot brain defects in the developing baby, say researchers.” Not only is this headline vague but it automatically raised questions for the reader, it’s essentially ‘clickbait’ and could lead to a reader simply taking away the headline without reading any further. With the cost of a private MRI scan ranging from £300 to up to £800, there’s clearly money to be made here for those in the business – but the health implications are what we should be worried.

Click through here for the full story on the NHS site.

Lewy Body Disease is another brain disease threatening contact sports players

A new study published by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine has revealed a further potential causal link between playing contact supports (such as hockey and football) and the development of Lewy Body Disease. The paper, published in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology, suggests that contact sports players have an increased risk of developing the degenerative condition which can lead to Parkinson’s disease. Although CTE has attracted a great deal of headlines in recent years, the study’s results have shown that Lewy Body Disease can be developed independently, as a result of repetitive head impacts associated with contact sports.

The sample group assessed results from 694 brains in total with 269 of those belonging to former athletes. Out of this athlete group 217 were found to have developed CTE, whereas 54 (20.2%) were diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease. Lewy Body Disease is closely linked with dementia and is often confused with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s due to its similarities in presentation which include fluctuations in alertness, hallucinations, muscle stiffness and loss of memory. The study has highlighted a possible causality between CTE patients’ loss of motor functions which has previously been unexplained, in addition to revealing that those that do not develop CTE are more likely to go on to develop Lewy Body Disease.

See the full article here.

September’s Neuropathology Update

A new web-tool for sequencers, research on Alzheimer’s and CTE in American Football…

We bring you all the latest news and developments from the world of Neuropathology, including recent discoveries concerning the effect that epigenetic changes might have on Alzheimer’s disease, how a new kind of enhancer drug might be the key to treating pediatric brain cancers and more…

Nauen Lab’s Transcript Consensus is open for use

A new web-tool has been published to allow genomic researchers to better understand and identify shared DNA sequences. TraC (short for transcript consensus) has been designed to give scientists all over the world access to an ever growing data set of mRNA data, sourced from public repositories of gene sequences. The search tool finds all sequences shared by two (or more) splice variants and depicts these results in the form of an intuitive, interactive plot which has the potential to be of use to anyone researching DNA.

This tool comes courtesy of the Nauen Lab at John Hopkins University, a research team that specialises in the area of epilepsy, specifically MTLE (medial temporal lobe epilepsy). MTLE is a form of epilepsy that occurs in patients after a head injury or series of febrile seizures. Many patients do not experience the debilitating effects of epilepsy until many years after the initial injury, indicating that the neural circuit of the medial lobe undergoes a pathological remodelling over a long period of time. This slow-burn onset makes it very difficult for an effective diagnosis to be made. Thankfully, through on going research into electrophysiology and morphology, the team at the Nauen Lab are getting closer to understanding the process of MTLE.

See the new web tool here.

UK Researchers inch closer to demystifying Alzheimer’s disease

Over 26 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease globally, a number that only continues to grow as the world population ages. After a series of breakthrough studies, researchers from the University of Exeter and King’s College London are getting closer to understanding the causes behind Alzheimer’s Disease. Current studies have discovered that chemical changes to DNA, specifically within the ANK1 gene, are associated with measures of neuropathology in the brain. The study, which was published in Nature Neuroscience, revealed that patients who had a higher concentration of Alzheimer’s neuropathology also had more DNA modifications within their ANK1 gene.

It has long been expected that Alzheimer’s disease damages particular regions of the brain, post-mortem examinations of patients have suggested that regions such as the entorhinal cortex were particularly vulnerable to damage. If further research confirms a link between Alzheimer’s Disease and epigenetic changes in the brain then researchers will be another step closer to understanding how this disease is caused and how we can go about reversing its damaging effects.

See the abstract for the complete research here.

CTE & Statistical Mis-Truths

The term ‘fake-news’ is bandied around a lot these days and, although the term is more commonly associated with the political machinations of Presidents and Prime Ministers, it’s important to remember that ‘mis-truths’ can crop up in all sorts of places. Twitter posts and Facebook feeds might well have been the battleground of lies that led up to a number of elections and referenda in 2o16, but this wasn’t the year that fake news was invented – far from it. Newspaper headlines have been playing their part for decades and it was one particular headline that caused a particular kind of uproar in the USA.

The headline in question read: “CTE found in 99% of brains from deceased NFL players”. After an article on this topic was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the American media went into a frenzy and parents across the country pulled their children from any football related activities. Dr. Peter Cummings, a forensic pathologist, was one of these parents, but after he had a look into the statistics behind the headlines he found himself doubting his initial actions.

See Dr. Cummings post here.