Human Interest

Sedona temporarily became a hub for top neuroscientists from across the country.

The Spring Brain Conferences celebrated their 16th anniversary March 16 to 19 at Poco Diablo Resort and for the first time also held an outreach program in Sedona, consisting of a free community event at the Sedona Performing Arts Center as well as presentations in science classes at Sedona-Oak Creek schools.

The Spring Brain Conferences are an annual opportunity for leading brain scientists to convene and share their research with peers as well as the local community. This year at the community outreach event at the Sedona Performing Arts Center, four scientists presented on “Brain Health for Optimal Aging.”

Maureen W. McEnery, director of the Spring Brain Conferences and professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, gave the audience a Brain 101 crash course on how brain cells communicate with each other. She said that the brain derives the energy that cells need to communicate through a healthy diet, and that especially carbohydrates and oxygen are essential elements for a well-functioning brain.

Thomas Wichmann, director of the Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s Disease Research at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., talked about the research history of Parkinson’s, the cause of the disease and the challenges researchers face today. He said that Parkinson’s can currently not be fully cured, however, the disease can be altered. He encouraged patients to exercise regularly, engage in social interactions as much as possible and actively fight the disease by participating in support groups and clinical trials.

James L. McGaugh, professor of neurobiology and behavior at University of California in Irvine, presented on the effect of emotions on memory. He pointed out that memory is in fact the central integrating factor of our lives and is crucial in making decisions about the future. In multiple studies, McGaugh has found that the release of adrenaline after a learning experience significantly improves memory, while cortisol dampens the recall of information for roughly one hour.

Mark B. Moss, professor of neurology at Boston University, talked about healthy cognitive aging. He said that chronic stress has negative effects on the brain, such as memory loss. It also produces cravings for fat and sugar, which result in inflammation in the body. Moss also pointed to the importance of a healthy balance between REM and non-REM sleep.

In general, healthy cognitive aging can be achieved through a healthy diet, physical exercise, mental activity and regular social interactions.

Pete Sanders, Sedona coordinator for the Spring Brain Conferences, said he was pleased with the event. “It was really a coming together of community effort.”

For future events, however, he would like to see a lot more turnout. “These are top scientists that are donating their time to educate the community,” he said.

Maureen McEnery also expressed content for the first round of the outreach event in Sedona. “We would like to do this again next year,” she said.


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