Posts Tagged concentration
By Jamie Eske, Reviewed by Heidi Moawad, MD
Dopamine and serotonin are chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, that help regulate many bodily functions. They have roles in sleep and memory, as well as metabolism and emotional well-being.
People sometimes refer to dopamine and serotonin as the “happy hormones” due to the roles they play in regulating mood and emotion.
Dopamine and serotonin are involved in similar bodily processes, but they operate differently. Imbalances of these chemicals can cause different medical conditions that require different treatments.
In this article, we look at the differences between dopamine and serotonin, their relationship, and their links with medical conditions and overall health.
What is dopamine?
Neurons in the brain release dopamine, which carries signals between neurons.
The body uses dopamine to create chemicals called norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Dopamine plays an integral role in the reward system, a group of brain processes that control motivation, desire, and cravings.
Dopamine levels also influence the following bodily functions:
- blood flow
- urine output
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is another neurotransmitter present in the brain.
However, more than 90% of the body’s total serotonin resides in the enterochromaffin cells in the gut, where it helps regulate the movement of the digestive system.
In addition to aiding digestion, serotonin is involved in regulating:
- the sleep-wake cycle
- mood and emotions
- metabolism and appetite
- cognition and concentration
- hormonal activity
- body temperature
- blood clotting
Differences between dopamine and serotonin
Although both dopamine and serotonin relay messages between neurons and affect mood and concentration, they have some other distinct functions.
Dopamine, for example, relays signals between neurons that control body movements and coordination.
This neurotransmitter also plays a role in the brain’s pleasure and reward center, and it drives many behaviors. Eating certain foods, taking illicit drugs, and engaging in behaviors such as gambling can all cause dopamine levels in the brain to spike.
Higher levels of dopamine can lead to feelings of euphoria, bliss, and enhanced motivation and concentration. Therefore, exposure to substances and activities that increase dopamine can become addictive to some people.
Like dopamine, serotonin can also influence people’s moods and emotions, but it helps regulate digestive functions such as appetite, metabolism, and gut motility.
The relationship between dopamine and serotonin
They interact with and affect each other to maintain a careful chemical balance within the body. There are strong links between the serotonin and dopamine systems, both structurally and in function.
In some cases, serotonin appears to inhibit dopamine production, which means that low levels of serotonin can lead to an overproduction of dopamine. This may lead to impulsive behavior, due to the role that dopamine plays in reward seeking behavior.
Serotonin inhibits impulsive behavior, while dopamine enhances impulsivity.
Dopamine and serotonin have opposite effects on appetite; whereas serotonin suppresses it, low levels of dopamine can stimulate hunger.
Which conditions have links to dopamine and serotonin?
Having abnormal levels of either dopamine or serotonin can lead to several different medical conditions.
Both neurotransmitters can affect mood disorders such as depression. Imbalances can also result in distinct conditions that affect different bodily functions.
In the sections below, we cover these conditions in more detail:
Having too much or too little dopamine can impair communication between neurons and lead to the development of physical and psychological health conditions.
Dopamine deficiency may play a significant role in the following conditions and symptoms:
Dopamine also plays a role in motivation and reward driven behaviors.
Although dopamine alone may not directly cause depression, having low levels of dopamine may cause specific symptoms associated with depression.
These symptoms can include:
- lack of motivation
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
The SLC6A3 gene provides instructions for creating the dopamine transporter protein. This protein transports dopamine molecules across neuron membranes.
A medical condition known as dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome, or infantile parkinsonism-dystonia, occurs when mutations in the SLC6A3 gene affect how the dopamine transporter proteins function.
Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome disrupts dopamine signaling, which impacts the body’s ability to regulate movement.
For this reason, dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome produces symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, including:
- tremors, spasms, and cramps in the muscles
- difficulty eating, swallowing, speaking, and moving
- impaired coordination and dexterity
- involuntary or abnormal eye movements
- decreased facial expression, or hypomimia
- difficulty sleeping
- frequent pneumonia infections
- digestive problems, such as acid reflux and constipation
Similar to dopamine, researchers have linked abnormal levels of serotonin with several medical conditions, especially mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Contrary to popular belief, it appears that low serotonin does not necessarily cause depression. Multiple factors beyond biochemistry contribute to depression, such as:
- genetics and family history
- lifestyle and stress levels
- additional medical conditions
That said, having low serotonin levels may increase a person’s risk of developing depression. Serotonin medications — such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase the availability of serotonin in the brain — may also help treat depression.
SSRI medications include:
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- citalopram (Celexa)
On the other hand, having too much serotonin can lead to a potentially life threatening medical condition called serotonin syndrome.
Serotonin syndrome, or serotonin toxicity, can occur after taking too much of a serotonergic medication or taking multiple serotonergic medications at the same time.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided a list of serotonergic medications in 2016. Aside from SSRIs, some of these include:
- serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as venlafaxine (Effexor)
- tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as desipramine (Norpramin) and imipramine (Tofranil)
- certain migraine medications, including almotriptan (Axert) and rizatriptan (Maxalt)
According to the FDA, opioid pain relievers can interact with serotonergic medications, which can lead to a buildup of serotonin or enhance its effects in the brain.
The neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin regulate similar bodily functions but produce different effects.
Dopamine regulates mood and muscle movement and plays a vital role in the brain’s pleasure and reward systems.
Unlike dopamine, the body stores the majority of serotonin in the gut, instead of in the brain. Serotonin helps regulate mood, body temperature, and appetite.
Having too much or too little of either neurotransmitter can cause psychological and physical symptoms.
A brain injury can have various physical, cognitive, medical, emotional, and behavioral effects on head injury survivors. Of these changes, behavioral changes can be one of the most challenging for survivors to overcome to live happier and more independently. To help survivors with traumatic brain injury (TBI), families and caregivers should learn to understand their behavior and develop practical ways to address those challenges.
Why Does Brain Injury Affect Emotions?
Behavioral problems following TBI are often the result of damage to the frontal lobe, the area of the brain that controls “executive functions.” Executive functions refer to the set of skills a person uses to plan, create, evaluate, organize, evaluate, reason, communicate, and solve problems. These impairments have a significant impact on how a person behaves.
Common Behavioral Changes Experienced by TBI Survivors
Human behavior is complex and multi-faceted. This means it can be difficult to isolate which behavior is a result of TBI. A TBI patient’s behavior is, after all, influenced by many different factors, like the nature of the injury, their pre- and post-injury experience, their cognitive abilities, or the behavior of other people. But some of the most common behavior changes encountered by TBI survivors include:
1. Memory Problems
Most people diagnosed with a brain disorder may experience memory problems, but they are more common among TBI survivors as a result of an injury from the bony protrusions inside the skull. Typical situations include forgetting a person’s name, losing a train of thought, and difficulty learning new things.
2. Temper Outbursts
Family members of people with TBI often describe their loved one as someone with a quick temper. They may use bad language, throw objects, or slam doors. Drastic changes like the loss of independence and inability to follow a conversation, in particular, can make a person with TBI more prone to these temper outbursts.
Depression among people with TBI can arise because of the struggle to adjust to disabilities and the changes to one’s role in the family and society. Symptoms of depression include feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts, changes in sleep and appetite, and withdrawal from peers.
4. Poor Concentration
TBI affects a person’s attention and concentration abilities, posing a challenge to work, study, and everyday living. Poor concentration manifests itself in difficulty multitasking, following conversations, and processing information. This happens when the lateral intraparietal cortex—the region of the brain responsible for controlling attention—suffers damage.
5. Self-Centered Attitude
It’s common for TBI survivors to show signs of egocentrism. In turn, this could hamper their ability to see things from another person’s point of view which severely impact their relationship with family members, especially if they used to be a caring person. And although it is often taken for granted, the ability to understand another’s perspective is a complex cognitive skill.
6. Aggressive Behavior
Aggressive behavior following a TBI is often impulsive. A person with TBI can easily grow agitated over trivial disagreements. Experts explain that aggression that happens directly after the TBI is the result of delirium and other post-injury medications. Aggression up to three months after TBI, on the other hand, happens as a result of depression, chronic pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
7. Lower Sex Drive
A decreased desire or interest in sex is more common among TBI survivors than heightened libido. Disinhibited sexual behavior can be a possible effect of poor awareness and impulsivity. Changes in sexual functioning following TBI can be due to hormonal changes, medication side effects, fatigue, and movement problems.
Coping with a Loved One with Head Injury
People with TBI showing signs of these behavior problems should be evaluated by a doctor so they can receive proper treatment. On top of medical intervention, friends and family of survivors should also actively participate in rehabilitation, recovery, and advocacy.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
Brain injury has lifelong effects. It pays to understand that a person with TBI might already be trying his or her best. Every member of the family can have different abilities, skills, comfort levels, and limitations, so set small goals and acknowledge that every day is an achievement.
2. Get Involved
Behavioral problems are often hard to deal with. But try to resist the temptation of avoiding difficult situations. People with TBI could end up feeling more confused and isolated if left alone. Instead, get involved and familiarize yourself with their day-to-day routine.
3. Encourage Independence
Learning how to comfort a loved one with TBI is a must. But tread carefully: there is a fine line between caring for people and smothering them with affection. Try to instill independence and study their behavior to know the right time to provide comfort.
4. Reinforce Positive Behavior
What used to come easy to a TBI survivor may now feel extremely difficult. Reinforce positive behavior by focusing on the patient’s strengths, rather than pointing fingers or directing behavior.
5. Rediscover Preferences
Stay alert and pay attention to the wants and needs of a person with TBI. Discover new ways they can engage in activities and establish a balance between easy and difficult tasks. And always encourage them to participate, instead of assuming that their injury makes them unable to.
6. Confide with Loved Ones
Honesty is the best policy, and confiding in friends and family members can help alleviate the burden. Enlisting others for support can provide a fresh perspective and make it easier to identify triggers and how to avoid them.
7. Bounce Back Quickly
Accept that encountering behavioral problems is a part of life. Avoid getting stuck by teaching
new skills while a person is upset. Bounce back quickly from these obstacles then revisit them again later since people aren’t receptive to learning new things when they’re upset.
Other articles you may like:
- I am listening… just my brain injury keeps phasing out.
- Guest post: Rob Dunn on family’s denial of brain injury
- Guest post: Rich Parry-Jones, brain injury survivors husband & carer.
- Is my brain injury making me a bad friend?
- Missing the obvious mistakes after brain injury
Have you or a brain injury survivor you know struggled with these behavioural issues? What advice would you give to others?
Today’s article is written by Hazel Ann Westco.
Hazel Ann Westco is a start-up freelance writer. She is interested in writing blogs and articles related to legal cases mainly in personal injury and employment. Whenever she has free time she rides her bicycle or motorcycle for a road trip. You can follow her on Twitter using her handle @AnnWestco.
In a world in which our brains are almost constantly overstimulated, many of us may find it challenging to stay focused for extended periods. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom have now developed an app that trains the mind to maintain concentration.
Many, if not most, of us spend our days rapidly switching between competing tasks. We call this “multitasking,” and take pride in how efficient we are in dealing with multiple problems at the same time.
However, multitasking requires that we quickly redirect our focus from one activity to another and then back again, which, in time, can have a detrimental effect on our ability to concentrate.
“We’ve all experienced coming home from work feeling that we’ve been busy all day but unsure what we actually did,” says Prof. Barbara Sahakian from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge.
“Most of us spend our time answering emails, looking at text messages, searching social media, trying to multitask. But, instead of getting a lot done, we sometimes struggle to complete even a single task and fail to achieve our goal for the day,” she adds, noting that we may even find it difficult to stay focused on pleasant, relaxing activities, such as watching TV.
Yet, she continues, “For complex tasks, we need to get in the ‘flow’ and stay focused.” So, how can we re-teach our minds to stay focused?
Prof. Sahakian and colleagues believe that they may have found an effective and uncomplicated solution to this problem.
The research team has developed a brain training app called “Decoder,” which can help users improve their concentration, memory, and numerical skills.
The scientists have recently conducted a study to test the effectiveness of their new app, and they now report their results in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
An app that improves concentration
In the study, Prof. Sahakian and team worked with a cohort of 75 young and healthy adult participants. The trial spanned 4 weeks, and all the participants took a special test measuring their concentration skills at both the beginning and the end of the study.
As part of the trial, the researchers divided the participants into three groups. They asked one group to play the new Decoder training game, while the second group had to play Bingo, and the third group received no game to play.
Those in the first two groups played their respective games during eight 1-hour sessions over the 4 weeks, and they did so under the researchers’ supervision.
At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that the participants who had played Decoder demonstrated better attention skills than both the participants who had played Bingo and those who had played no game at all.
The researchers state that these improvements were “significant” and comparable to the effects of medication that doctors prescribe for the treatment of attention-impairing conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
App could help with ADHD
In the next step of the trial, Prof. Sahakian and team wanted to test whether Decoder could boost concentration without negatively affecting a person’s ability to shift their attention effectively from one task to another.
To do so, they asked participants who had used Decoder and Bingo to take the Trail Making Test (TMT), which assesses individuals’ attention-shifting capacity. The researchers found that Decoder players performed better on the TMT than Bingo players.
Finally, participants who played Decoder reported higher rates of enjoyment while participating in this activity, as well as stronger motivation and better alertness throughout all their sessions.
“Many people tell me that they have trouble focusing their attention. Decoder should help them improve their ability to do this,” says Prof. Sahakian.
“In addition to healthy people, we hope that the game will be beneficial for patients who have impairments in attention, including those with ADHD or traumatic brain injury. We plan to start a study with traumatic brain injury patients this year,” the researcher also notes.
An ‘evidence-based game’
Cambridge Enterprise recently licensed the new game to app developer Peak, who specialize in the release of brain training apps. Peak have adapted Decoder for the iPad platform, and the game is now available from the App Store as part of the Peak Brain Training package.
George Savulich, another of the current study’s authors, notes that, unlike other apps that claim to train the brain but do not necessarily deliver on their promise, he and his colleagues based the development of Decoder on hard scientific evidence.
“Many brain training apps on the market are not supported by rigorous scientific evidence. Our evidence-based game is developed interactively […]. The level of difficulty is matched to the individual player, and participants enjoy the challenge of the cognitive training.”
“Peak’s version of Decoder is even more challenging than our original test game, so it will allow players to continue to gain even larger benefits in performance over time,” Prof. Sahakian adds.
“By licensing our game, we hope it can reach a wide audience who are able to benefit by improving their attention,” she says.
Acta Neurol Scand. 2016 Mar 15. doi: 10.1111/ane.12587.
OBJECTIVES: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) may cause long-lasting post-concussive symptoms, such as mental fatigue and concentration difficulties, and this may become the main hindrance for returning to work and studies. There is currently no effective treatment for long-lasting mental fatigue. In this hypothesis generating study, the long-term effects of methylphenidate on mental fatigue, cognitive function, and safety were assessed.
MATERIALS & METHODS: Thirty participants who suffered from long-term post-concussion symptoms after a mild TBI or moderate TBI and who had reported positive effects with methylphenidate during an initial phase of this follow-up study were treated with methylphenidate for a further six months.
RESULTS: After six-month follow-up, effects on Mental Fatigue Scale (MFS), depression, anxiety, and cognitive function (processing speed, attention, working memory) were significantly improved compared to baseline data (P < 0.001, respectively). Heart rate was significantly increased (P = 0.01), while blood pressure was not changed.
CONCLUSIONS: Individuals suffering from prolonged symptoms after TBI reported reduced mental fatigue and improved cognitive functions with long-term methylphenidate treatment. It is suggested that methylphenidate can be a treatment option for long-term mental fatigue and cognitive impairment after a TBI, but further randomized control research is warranted.
[ARTICLE] Participant perceptions of use of CyWee Z as adjunct to rehabilitation of upper-limb function following stroke – Full Text PDF
This article reports on the perceptions of 14 adults with chronic stroke who participated in a pilot study to determine the utility, acceptability, and potential efficacy of using an adapted CyWee Z handheld game controller to play a variety of computer games aimed at improving upper-limb function. Four qualitative in-depth interviews and two focus groups explored participant perceptions. Data were thematically analyzed with the general inductive approach. Participants enjoyed playing the computer games with the technology. The perceived benefits included improved upper-limb function, concentration, and balance; however, six participants reported shoulder and/or arm pain or discomfort, which presented while they were engaged in play but appeared to ease during rest. Participants suggested changes to the games and provided opinions on the use of computer games in rehabilitation. Using an adapted CyWee Z controller and computer games in upper-limb rehabilitation for people with chronic stroke is an acceptable and potentially beneficial adjunct to rehabilitation. The development of shoulder pain was a negative side effect for some participants and requires further investigation.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in New Zealand and a major cause of adult disability for those who experience it . Approximately 85 percent of patients with stroke do not regain upper-limb function and remain dependent on caregivers [2–3], with motor impairments accounting for most poststroke disability . Loss of upper-limb function is a major cause of poor perception of well-being following stroke .
Most recovery of upper-limb function occurs in the first 3 months following a stroke; however, significant gains in dexterity, strength, and function with rehabilitation 6 months poststroke have been reported [6–7]. This subacute recovery in motor function can be explained in part by neural reorganization caused by rehabilitation training [8–12]. It is suggested that key factors to upperlimb stroke rehabilitation training are attention, repetition, intensity of practice, reward, progression of complexity, and skill acquisition and that this training should be task-oriented.
The idea of playing a game to make you sharper seems like a no-brainer. That’s the thinking behind a billion-dollar industry selling brain training games and programs designed to boost cognitive ability.
But an investigation by CBC’s Marketplace reveals that brain training games such as Lumosity may not make your brain perform better in everyday life.
Brain training games, such as Lumosity, are a billion-dollar industry. Many people are worried about maintaining their brain health and want to prevent a decline in their mental abilities. (CBC)
Almost 15 per cent of Canadians over the age of 65 are affected by some kind of dementia. And many people of all ages are worried about maintaining their brain health and possibly preventing a decline in their mental abilities.
“I don’t think there’s anything to say that you can train your brain to be cognitively better in the way that we know that we can train our bodies to be physically better,” neuroscientist Adrian Owen told Marketplace co-host Tom Harrington.
- CBC Marketplace: Mind Games
- Dementia patients sold unproven ‘brainwave optimization’
To test how effective the games are at improving cognitive function, Marketplace partnered with Owen, who holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University.