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Gifting The Mind

HM, aged 60, in the lab at MIT
Neuroscience today is high tech—fantastic imaging machines churn out brain scans of the living, thinking brain, and computers crunch data to highlight patterns that may or may not fit the latest theory about how the mind works. How far we have come from the studies of the great neurologists and psychiatrists of the 19th century who relied on clinical descriptions of individual patients to further our knowledge of the brain and its mind. Or have we?  Read More 
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Keeping Alzheimer’s Disease Away

Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent in "Away From Her".
Have you seen the movie, “Away From Her”? The film is based on Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” later re-released in novella form as “Away From Her.” It is the story of one couple’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Julie Christie plays the role of Fiona, as she loses her memory and her independence, but not her warmth and gentleness, and Gordon Pinsent plays the role of Fiona’s husband, a retired academic whose love for Fiona and his dependence on her for his happiness is tarnished by the guilt of his own past affairs. When Fiona starts to wander, she makes the decision to live in a nursing home where she can be cared for safely. As her dementia progresses, she forgets her who her husband is and transfers her affections to another man; a patient in the nursing home. As Gordon watches, often from the sidelines, she drifts away, leaving him alone with his long goodbye.  Read More 
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A Body In The Mind

“Are you simply a frustrated doctor? Perhaps deep down what you wanted to be was a neurosurgeon?” are comments I have occasionally fielded. As it happened I never yearned to be a medical doctor, and while clinical neuropsychology does have many things in common with neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry, equally valid might have been the comment, “Are you a frustrated detective?” Most research has an element of detective work, whatever the field, and clinical neuropsychology is no exception. For me, it is the mix of working as a clinician and a researcher simultaneously that is the attraction of clinical neuropsychology. And these two aspects of the discipline are at their powerful best when the clinician or researcher comes across a patient with a neurological disorder or a collection of symptoms that are rare. If the patient is willing and is well enough to be tested, the neuropsychologist has an opportunity to discover something new about the way the mind works, and hopefully the careful research assessments will also provide detailed information that can improve the patient’s rehabilitation programme.
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The Frontal-lobe syndrome

Embellishments on the copy (lower figure) of the top drawing indicate disinhibited behaviour.
I thought I’d write a “series” of blogs on the different neuropsychological disorders in “Trouble In Mind” including an extract from the relevant chapter. My “Psychology Today” blogs also comment on neuropsychological disorders, but usually the content is not as directly related to my book content, as it is not appropriate to post extracts from the book on that site. I’ll also focus on a different disorder on each site in any given month.

I decided to begin at the front of the brain, with the frontal lobes. These days, everyone seems to know about the frontal lobes; the parts of the brain that continue to develop through our teens and into our early twenties. To be more precise, the area that is commonly referred to as the frontal lobe, is the front of the frontal lobe; labelled the prefrontal lobe. Humans have the most highly developed prefrontal cortex of any animal, and it is probably this, more than anything else, that has catapulted humankind to the top of the evolutionary tree.  Read More 
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"Trouble In Mind" advance copy has arrived!

I recently received an advance copy of my new book, Trouble In Mind: Stories from a Neuropsychologist’s Casebook which has a release date in the USA of February 2nd, 2012. It looks great, although somewhat thicker than I intended when I began writing! The image on the front cover, according to my daughter, makes it look like a tramping book ("tramping" being the NZ term for "hiking"). This photo of mine, of one of the many lovely walks in New Zealand's South Island, reminded me of a wonderful cartoon in my book from the Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig, called "How to Get There." I have often given this cartoon to patients who are struggling with long, slow, hard rehabilitation following a head injury or stroke. The message it conveys is that the way to get there is to keep on walking, one step at a time, stopping to rest and look at the view whenever you feel tired or downhearted. So the photo on the cover seemed to me to convey a similar "pathway to recovery."

The book's back cover is full of very nice “advance praise” quotes from many giants in the neuropsychology and medical fields as well as from some of my favorite novelists and writers of case study-type books for the general reader.  Read More 
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Creative Writing and the Brain

Is there a creative writer who hasn’t at times wondered what it is that impels thousands of people to spend thousands of hours thinking about and writing made-up stories, that at best will be read by thousands of people who have got nothing better to do than read made-up stories! Is there some evolutionary imperative that has moulded our minds to seek stories? Even Steven Pinker, the cognitive scientist and author of How the Mind Works --such a wonderful title-- who controversially suggests that music confers no survival advantage and describes it as “auditory cheesecake” (p. 534), submits that fiction can, like gossip, be biologically adaptive. “Fictional narratives supply us with a mental catalogue of the fatal conundrums we might face someday and the outcome of strategies we could deploy in them.” (p. 543.)  Read More 
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