Brain Matters: Studying the Brain (June Session)


Together with Rabbi Edwards we will continue to study how the brain functions and its challenges. We’ll devise ways to help patients and caregivers face challenges as a community.

This month’s session: June 6 , 7:30pm-9:00pm

This month BCC member Jessica Donath will lead our discussion.  She has chosen three TED talks — one that follows up on some of last month’s focus on Alzheimer’s, and two that look forward to our August session at which the Honorable Donna Groman and her colleague Hellen Carter (Probation Bureau Chief) will discuss how an understanding of the development of the adolescent brain has brought about changes in the field of juvenile justice.

Video 1: Jill Bolt Taylo’s stroke of insight: A neuroscientist has a stroke and gets to study her own loss of brain functions as it happens.

One morning, a blood vessel in Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain exploded. As a brain scientist, she realized she had a ringside seat to her own stroke. She watched as her brain functions shut down one by one: motion, speech, memory, self-awareness …

Amazed to find herself alive, Taylor spent eight years recovering her ability to think, walk and talk. She has become a spokesperson for stroke recovery and for the possibility of coming back from brain injury stronger than before. In her case, although the stroke damaged the left side of her brain, her recovery unleashed a torrent of creative energy from her right. From her home base in Indiana, she now travels the country on behalf of the Harvard Brain Bank as the “Singin’ Scientist.”

Video 2: Elyn Saks seeing mental illness: Saks was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia as a young girl and talks about how she went on to study law and become a professor of law and psychiatry.

As a law scholar and writer,  Elyn Saks speaks for the rights of mentally ill people. It’s a gray area: Too often, society’s first impulse is to make decisions on their behalf. But it’s a slippery slope from in loco parentis to a denial of basic human rights. Saks has brilliantly argued for more autonomy — and in many cases for a restoration of basic human dignity.

In 2007, deep into her career, she dropped a bombshell — her autobiography, The Center Cannot Hold. In it, she reveals the depth of her own schizophrenia, now controlled by drugs and therapy. Clear-eyed and honest about her own condition, the book lent her new ammunition in the quest to protect the rights and dignity of the mentally ill.

Video 3: Thomas Insel toward a new understanding of mental illness: Insel is head of the National Institute of Mental Health and thinks the country should make an effort to limit suicides resulting from mental illness in a way similar to lowering deaths from cancer or heart disease. This is more about policy and framing how society views mental illness.

homas Insel has seen many advances in the understanding of mental disorders since becoming the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 2002. During his tenure, major breakthroughs have been made in the areas of practical clinical trials, autism research and the role of genetics in mental illnesses.

Prior to his appointment at the NIMH, Insel was a professor of psychiatry at Emory University, studying the neurobiology of complex social behaviors. While there, he was the founding director of the NSF Center for Behavioral Neuroscience and director of the NIH-funded Center for Autism Research. He has published over 250 scientific articles and four books and has served on numerous academic, scientific, and professional committees and boards. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and a recipient of the Outstanding Service Award from the U.S. Public Health Service and the 2010 Neuronal Plasticity Prize of the Fondation Ipsen.


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