Brain Development

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on Mental Development. It takes a quarter of century for the male brain to fully develop so lay off your son a bit for forgetting to take out the trash. A female's brain is fully developed by the age of 21 which means that it will take a full four years for him to fully understand what the heck you're talking about.

Mental Development Similar Among Boys, Girls
Drinking Alcohol Shrinks the Brain

Women's Brains/Men's Brains

Mental Development Similar Among Boys, Girls

U.S. scientists are getting the first comprehensive look at how children's brains and behaviors change over time, and it's yielding some surprises.

It turns out that much-touted differences in the mental evolution of boys and girls aren't so pronounced after all.

On the other hand, the amount of money a child's family makes may have a big impact on his or her intellectual ability, with IQs rising alongside incomes.

Those are just the highlights of preliminary findings from a team of psychologists and psychiatrists at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Their project, the National Institutes of Health MRI Study of Normal Brain Health, is assessing the neurological and behavioral development of 450 American children carefully selected to be free of problems and representing the diversity of the country's population.

"This is being done to learn more about the structural and functional development of the normal brain," explained Deborah P. Waber, associate professor of psychology at Children's Hospital Boston, lead author of the report. "The data will be used as baseline for all kinds of disorders of childhood brain development."

The first findings from the project were published in the online edition of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

They include:

In addition to undergoing three rounds of performance and behavioral tests as they aged, the children also underwent MRI and other scans of their brains to study the growth of different brain structures and the formation of neural connections. The scans also tracked changes in brain chemistry. Those images, and the information gleaned from them, will be made available to clinicians and scientists who study brain development.

There will be further reports, but "I don't think we are going to follow these children any further," Waber said. "This has been a very labor-intensive study at six sites across the country. It represents pretty much the limit of what our resources allow us to do."

No comparable study of normal cognitive development has ever been done, noted Judy Rumsey, the project officer who spearheaded the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health's participation in the project.

"This information will help determine what the developmental trajectories are and whether gender differences appear or disappear in the development of typically developing children up to 18 years of age -- children with no neurological disease, developmental disorder or psychiatric disorder," Rumsey said. "There has been nothing as comprehensive as this. It goes down to a very young age, with a sampling designed to insure diversity and representation for different social groups."

It is not possible to say just when the full range of images and information will be made available to professionals, Rumsey said. She said there still are some major issues to be settled, notably that of preserving the privacy of the young people who took part in the project.

The project is described in detail by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Drinking Alcohol Shrinks the Brain

Even moderate consumption reduced brain volume, study found

While it might help your heart, drinking even moderately could shrink your brain, U.S. researchers say.

"A small amount of alcohol is beneficial for the heart," noted lead researcher Carol Ann Paul, "but there is a continuous negative correlation between alcohol consumption and total brain volume. It seems that there is not a beneficial effect of even small amounts of alcohol on brain volume."

Paul was scheduled to present her findings at this week's annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, in Boston.

In the study, Paul and colleagues looked at MRI brain scans of 1,839 people ages 34 to 88. The people were classified as non-drinkers, former drinkers, low drinkers (those who drank one to seven drinks per week), moderate drinkers (eight to 14 drinks per week), or high drinkers (more than 14 drinks per week).

The researchers found that the more alcohol people drank on a regular basis, the smaller their brain volume. People who had more than 14 drinks per week had an average 1.6 percent reduction in brain volume compared with people who never drank.

Paul's team found that brain volume decreased 0.25 percent for every increase in drinking category.

Brain shrinkage was slightly greater in female drinkers than in male drinkers and had the biggest impact on women who were in their 70s and were still heavy drinkers, the researchers found.

That's not a surprise, Paul said, because women's bodies tend to react differently to alcohol. "Women are more sensitive to alcohol [than men] and absorb it faster," she said.

Paul stressed that brain volume will decrease naturally throughout the life span. "There is a normal decline in brain volume. Some people seem to be unaffected by it, but some people are not," she said. "Alcohol seems to be accelerating this normal decline."

One expert believes the study shows a clear, negative effect of drinking on the brain.

"This study corroborates a building story about the detrimental effects of alcohol on brain structure and function," said Dr. James Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

According to Garbutt, studies have also shown that alcohol has negative effects on brain functioning and cognition. "However, there haven't been studies that show how brain volume and cognition are related and whether alcohol has any effect," he said.

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism offers more information on how drinking affects your brain.

Source: By Steven Reinberg, HealthDay Reporter

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