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Search for the Teenaged Brain Heather Harlan, Certified Reciprocal Prevention Specialist Phoenix Programs, Inc. Columbia, MO NAMI Missouri State Conference Lake of the Ozarks Port Arrowhead Conference Center November 4, 2011
Learning Objectives • Identify recent neurological discoveries in the brains of adolescents. • Understand needs of adolescents as a special population in prevention, treatment and recovery • Empower advocacy for evidence-based prevention, intervention, and treatment for youth.
Most everybody (including scientists) had thought they knew what was different about adolescents. . . .
. . . hair, hormones, and pimples. Didn’t connect astounding (irritating) changes in behavior, appetite, attention span, poor judgment, risky behaviors, and sleep patterns to their brains.
. Scientists in 1997 were surprised! Neuroscientist Dr. Jay Geidd, National Institutes of Healthsaw something he didn’t expect to see.
Exhuberence? Scientists knew human frontal lobes continue to grow but thought it was over about age 2 yrs. forming gray matter, cell bodies—neurons treelike branches—dendrites , THEN • Age 11 for girls • Age 12 for boys
It begins to kill off brain connections. Some connections thrive. Used the most.
Use it or lose it. Enables human brain to specialize and adapt—connecting all those brain cells with neuropathways, enabling parts of the brain to work together smoothly.
Human brain growing well in the mid-20’s Ages 5 20Blue represents maturing areas of the brain Blue represents maturing portion of the brain.
Human Brain Matures • Inside out • Back to front Last to mature—front Pre-frontal cortex—right behind your eyes and forehead
Pre-frontal cortex in humans last to mature • Reasoning • Motivation • Judgment • Resist impulses
Pre-frontal cortex in humans • Serves as “policeman” • Chief executive Helps us plan ahead. Asks, “What might happen IF . . . .?
Inhibitors in the human brain: • Part of brain that “inhibits” our behavior • Keeps us from imitating everything we see/hear • Matures about age 25
New Research (Hot off the press): Published onlineNature Journal October 19, 2011 andNational Public Radio Health Blog Research suggesting teens’ IQ is not set in stone. IQ seems to be a gauge of acquired knowledge that progresses in fits and starts.
In this week's journal Nature, researchers at University College London report documenting significant fluctuations in the IQs of a group of British teenagers. • The researchers tested 33 healthy adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16 years using brain scans and IQ tests. • They repeated the tests four years later and found that some teens improved their scores by as much as 20 points on the standardized IQ scale.
"We were very surprised," researcher Cathy Price, who led the project. She had expected changes of a few points. "But we had individuals that changed from being on the 50th percentile, with an IQ of 100, [all] the way up to being in the (top) 3rd percentile, with an IQ of 127." In other cases, performance slipped by nearly as much, with kids shaving points off their scores.
In other words: Teen brains changing in even more ways than we knew.
What is the ONE thing? The one thing the adolescent brain is best designed to do?
Learn? Neurologically, learning is the process of developing effective neuropathways.
Reinforcers--neurotransmitters Make it possible for us to learn.
Ummmmmm . . .. What’s a reinforcer?
Reinforcer. A positive reward that increases a likelihood a behavior will be repeated is a positive reinforcer. or A negative response that increases the likelihood a behavior will diminish or stop. In the brain it comes in the form of chemical rewards.
When I think of my brain There’s a lot at stake So I’m gonna learn how To make a good brain great.
Skill set Neurons fired together are wired together.
Understand needs of adolescents as a special population in prevention, treatment and recovery
Age of first use matters Youth who begin drinking before age 15 are 4 times more likely to become alcohol dependent than those who wait until they are 21. --PIRE (Pacific Institute on Research and Development)
Adolescents more vulnerable (hence a special population) • Don’t have strong neruopathways developed to pro-social reinforcers that require effort • Addictive substances and behaviors only require use, little pro-social effort—short cut • Aren’t able developmentally to think through consequences—need short-term goals of treatment • Transitions/stress/mental illness make the brain more vulnerable
Anything that lowers ones pain (emotional or physical) quickly can have an addictive quality.
Adolescents • Higher risk during transitions • Change in schools • Significant losses • Shift in family situation • Puberty itself is a transition • Stress—working to LEARN new routines It’s about the brain
Haven’t developed other coping skills. • Don’t know it won’t last f o r e v e r • Insufficient “roads in their brains” to feel OK • It’s all about here and now
Based on what we know today about the teenaged brain . . . . . . how can we empower advocacy for evidence-based prevention, intervention, and treatment for youth?
Understand . . . These messages only tell youth and young adults what NOT to do. These messages don’t help youth LEARN what TO do!
Support opportunities to LEARN and experience • Positve, pro-social activies • Effort driven rewards • Encouragement to “try again” • Affirmation and appreciation for the effort-- less for the outcome.( example: “You worked really hard on that. You spent a lot of time trying different strategies.” instead of, “That’s good.” or “You are so smart.”)
Advocate for science or evidence-based programs.
Ummmmmm . . .. What’s an evidence based or science-based program?
Most substance abuse treatment programs are based on PATT interventions: • Personal experience of the counselor “Here’s what worked for me.” • Anecdotal evidence “I heard of someone who . . . .” • Tradition “We’ve always done it that way.” • Time “We have a 21 day program.”
No seemed to be able to answer the questions “But how well does it work?”“What’s the number of people it helps and how does it help them?”
Substance use disorders and other mental heal issues are • Brain disorders • Chronic health problems
How many approach a chronic health condition this way? Doc, Just DO something. I don’t care how well it works—just DO something.