Dictionary 33. Heal Yourself

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Researchers are discovering more and more about the inner workings of the brain through MRI and PET scans. Both scans produce images of active, inactive, healthy, and unhealthy areas of the brain.

These images are helping doctors treat brain dysfunction. In the US, drugs have been the most common treatment for people with brain dysfunction. While even better drugs continue to be developed, drug-free remedies are now thought possible because of new research with DNA and stem cells.

But some scientists think that even these remedies might be unnecessary—they think that many people with brain dysfunction can fix themselves by simply "training" their brains. Computer software is helping people with Alzheimer's practice repetitive memory games. These games improve their memory enough that many become functional again.

Other brain disorders may also be treatable by using repetitive exercises. Born with cerebral palsy, Sara had a useless right arm. Researchers immobilized her good left arm, thus forcing the 5-year-old to use only her right arm for a few hours a day. In less than a year, Sara's right arm became functional.

"It sounds almost too simple and too obvious," said one researcher. "For years, people have used repetitive training to become better at games, sports, and other activities. Why has it taken us this long to realize that we can also train the brain? Simple repetitive practice may restore normal brain function for many patients of all ages."


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