Ask Dr. Tonya: Can My Bipolar Disorder Get Worse?

A woman shouting at a man while he looks at her( — Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe — and are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide.

While bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives, it often takes vigilance and partnering with your doctor to ensure that your bipolar management plan continues to be effective.

Q: Dear Dr. Tonya:

I’ve been battling with bipolar disorder for a number of years, and while, at first, everything seemed to be fine (with ongoing treatment), now I find that I’m not sure if things are still okay with me – even my friends and family have noticed slight changes in my behavior. Could something more serious be going on?

A: Thanks for your question! It depends. If your changes in behavior are expected responses to a particular situation, then probably not.  However, if your behavior suggests that you are engaging in more impulsive behaviors than before, have become more withdrawn or angry,  or that your safety and/or the safety of others is compromised, then I think it wise to immediately seek psychiatric treatment — although you have been receiving treatment for bipolar disorder, it is possible that you are no longer responding to your standard treatment and your provider may decide to adjust your treatment so that you receive maximum benefit.

One of the ways I have seen psychiatrists and other qualified health professionals address this type of situation is by adding additional medications to an already established regimen, a practice commonly referred to as adjunctive therapy.  Another action that providers may take is to adjust dosages, but your physician or appropriate mental health care provider can better address your specific symptoms and recommend a proper course of treatment.

By Dr. Tonya Hucks-Bradshaw, BDO Mental Health Expert

Dr. Hucks-Bradshaw is a licensed clinical psychologist and a former Minority Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA).  She is a certified HIV trainer with APA’s Office of HIV Education and has experience working in medical settings and hospitals.  Dr. Hucks-Bradshaw has made numerous presentations on multicultural interests, contributed to publications, and continues to maintain an active interest involving research among minority group populations.

Take Care Of Your Brain!

african american nerdy guy with tape on his glasses( — Brain health is all the rage these days, and for good reason. The evolving research demonstrates quite clearly that our brains are more elastic than previously thought, and we can continue to build new neural connections and pathways throughout our lifetime.

Based on the newer science and research, brain fitness has indeed become an important aspect of health, and there are now myriad ways to take advantage of the plethora of information now available to consumers when it comes to caring for and nurturing this most crucial of organs.

Exercising the brain and keeping it in shape is now seen as important as exercising the muscles of the body. There are many ways to put your brain through its paces, and most of us probably are already engaged in activities that promote brain health without being conscious of that fact.

Brain Basics
The brain is an organ that grows through its interaction with the environment either through its powers of perception or through actions undertaken by the body. Novel stimuli and experiences cause the brain to forge new neural pathways, and it is the underlying mind-body connection that powers the growth and elasticity of brain tissue.

Trillions of connections in your brain can fire hundreds or thousands of times each second, and these nerve fibers and networks within your three-pound brain are the essential stuff behind most every action and process occurring within your body. Neurotransmitters and other important chemicals are the messengers within your neural networks. The brain is fed its energy by glucose from your dietary intake and oxygen taken in through the lungs.

While most of your brain’s basic architecture is fully formed by the time you are four or five years old, brain development doesn’t stop in childhood. In fact, full brain maturity is said by some scientists to occur somewhere between the ages of 20 and 25. Therefore, many brain specialists have grave concerns about the heavy use of alcohol and illegal drugs during adolescence, a crucial time of cerebral development.

Although your brain is most elastic and ready for new information during adolescence, it is still possible to learn a new instrument, language or other skill later in life. In fact, the forging of new neural connections and brain elasticity depend upon the engagement of your brain in activities that stimulate growth and development at any age.

Physical Exercise
Research shows that moderate physical exercise can improve cognitive function and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Walking brings increased oxygen and glucose to the cerebral cortex. Walking is only moderately strenuous, therefore your legs do not demand the increased blood flow that more vigorous exercise requires, thus more blood and nutrients flow to your brain while walking than during other forms of exercise. Still, even vigorous activity benefits the brain by increasing blood flow and lung capacity, so don’t be afraid to go for it if you’re in good enough condition for vigorous exercise!

Good quality sleep allows the brain time to repair itself, consolidate information, and promote optimal learning. Sleep is an opportunity for the brain to perform many maintenance functions, and good sleep hygiene and high quality sleep are essential to overall brain health.

A healthy and well-balanced diet is key to brain health. Protein, high quality foods, vitamins, minerals, low cholesterol intake, amino acids and other essential nutrients all promote brain health and good cognitive function. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in many types of fish and nuts) also boost brain health and improve cognitive function. Herbal teas like Tulsi, gingko, green tea and ginseng are also said to reduce the levels of some stress hormones, increase alertness without caffeine, and boost memory.

Challenge Your Brain
Games, puzzles, reading, writing, learning a new language, and other challenging activities all promote the growth of new neural connections and general brain fitness. Try things you have never tried before, practice new skills and otherwise make your brain work hard.

Other suggestions include: avoiding using a calculator, playing games instead of watching TV, traveling, video games like Wii, learning a musical instrument, and playing games or doing activities that test or challenge your memory.
Many scientists say that trying skills opposite of your natural strengths also benefits the brain. So if you like puzzles, try playing an instrument, or if you like to write, try drawing or painting!

Decrease Stress
Some scientific evidence has revealed that chronic stress can adversely impact brain health. The release of stress hormones like cortisol can also potentially have a negative effect on the health of your brain, so managing stress, depression and anxiety can positively impact brain health. Drinking water, laughing, exercising and even smiling can all help to decrease levels of stress hormones circulating in the bloodstream.

Brain health is a crucial aspect of overall health, and with the knowledge that the decline of cognitive function and brain fitness begin at age 40, we all need to remember that taking care of our brains can add years of optimal health and function to our lives. Remember that your brain is key to every function of your body, and maintaining a healthy brain can add both quality and quantity to your life. Take care of your brain, and it will also take care of you.

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