Guest: Dr Kathleen Lawson
Guest Bio: Dr. Kathleen Lawson has worked in private practice in Melbourne for over 11 years, and she offers family-orientated chiropractic care. She integrates the principles of functional neurology into her practice. She was the president of the Australasian Academy of Functionality Neurology, and an Associate Professor of the Carrick Institute of Graduate Studies.
www.connectchiropractic.com.au | www.yourbrainyourlife.com.au
Segment Overview: The human brain is very fascinating and it develops as we age. Depending on our lifestyle, we can maximize the capacity of brains’ function. Learn more about this as Dr. Kathleen explores brain functions and development.
Health Professional Radio – Neurological Health
Katherine: Thanks for tuning in to Health Professional Radio. Today, we’re talking about brains. Yes, better brains for better life. Our guest is Dr. Kathleen Lawson. She has worked in private practice in Melbourne for over 11 years, and she offers family-orientated chiropractic care. She integrates the principles of functional neurology into her practice.
As a chiropractic neurology consultant – that’s a mouthful there – she also focuses on rehabilitation. She is the president of the Australasian Academy of Functionality Neurology, and an Associate Professor of the Carrick Institute of Graduate Studies. Welcome to our show, Kathleen.
Dr. Kathleen Lawson: Thank you very much for having me.
Katherine: Well, that’s a lot of things that you’re involved.
Dr. Lawson: Well, I’m happy to report that I’m now the Past President of the Australasian Academy of Functional Neurology, as we had our AGM yesterday.
Katherine: Okay. [laughs]
Dr. Lawson: [laughs] I’ve stepped down from that role, which is great, because it gives me a little bit of time to focus some more on the work that I’m doing in the community.
Katherine: Yeah. About the work that you do … now, you’re a chiropractor and a lot of people … when they think about chiropractic, people that have never been think about getting your back cracked and all of this other stuff. But actually, it does have a lot to do with neurology. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. Lawson: Katherine, you are so right. Most people, when they hear about chiropractors, they have an idea about the back doctors or the bone crunchers and that sort of thing. What’s really interesting is that chiropractic has actually always been about the nervous system. It’s simply the fact that the bones of your skull and your spine are protecting and supporting the major part of your central nervous system – your brain and your spinal cord.
That’s one of the ways that we can influence some of the things that are happening and how well your brain is coordinating and orchestrating everything that happens in your body.
Katherine: Yeah. It is a lot to do with the nervous system, and that’s obviously controlled by our brain. You probably work a lot with some people that need rehabilitation, both physically and neurologically speaking. That’s a real mouthful. [laughs] Can you give us some examples of this?
Dr. Lawson: I have a family-oriented practice. We see lots of families, lots of babies and kids and adults as well. The type of care that I provide ranges from general chiropractic care to working with, for example, children who have learning disorders or developmental challenges. I do lots of work with adults and elderly people who have had acquired brain injuries and are in a recovery phase from that.
We can also think about people who have chronic degenerative conditions, things like Parkinson’s, those sorts of conditions – multiple sclerosis, that change the way that your brain is able to control and coordinate what’s going on. We can have some really, really strong impact in the quality of life for those people.
Katherine: Yeah. It’s such a wide spectrum from all ages that you cover, isn’t it?
Dr. Lawson: Absolutely.
Katherine: Yeah. You mentioned about more elderly patients. We all take our brain health for granted until in older age, things such as MS and other diseases show themselves. What actually happens to our brain as we age?
Dr. Lawson: Well, the really interesting thing is there’s a whole bunch of research out now. The buzzword in neuroscience is neuroplasticity, or neuroplastic. Now, most people, when they hear that, when you hear ‘plastic’, you think manufactured. What it actually means is ‘changeable’ and there’s strong evidence that suggests that your brain is able to change right throughout your life.
We used to have this concept that you were born with what you got, and that was it – from the beginning of life towards the end, it’s just a downhill slide the whole way. What we now know is that there are a range of things that you can do and decisions that you can make to actually support how well your brain functions right through your life.
Katherine: Okay. It’s never too early to start.
Dr. Lawson: Never too early, and rarely too late.
Katherine: Yeah. You actually have written a book about this. It’s called, “Your Brain, Your Life: Make it What You Want”. Can you tell us a bit about your book?
Dr. Lawson: I wrote that with a colleague. The idea behind the book was to give people some really practical, hands-on information about how your brain works, what happens when things are going really well, what are the things that get in the way of your brain working at its best. Then, what can you do on an everyday basis to maximise your capacity and to keep it functioning as well as you can.
Katherine: Right, okay. I know when you get to a certain age – and I’m talking about more mature age – there is a little push for people to use it or lose it, with everything, including their brain. You see some commercials, some different iPad applications for brain training and things like that. There is a real push for people who are getting a bit older to keep active mentally.
Dr. Lawson: Sure.
Katherine: My question is: I think, maybe if you’re in your, say, 20s or 30s, a lot of people think they use their brain well enough. You know what I mean? Maybe during retirement years that they have more idle minds. But this is actually not true, is it?
Dr. Lawson: It’s not so much the idle minds that’s a part of it, but it’s also to do with how we live now. Most of us spend a whole lot of time sitting down, and the only reason that our brains develop to the extent that it is, is because we move … it was designed to control how we move around, so that we can make intelligent decisions about whether something in our environment is a threat or something that we need. The less we move around, the more our brain can actually tend to wind down.
Now, you add to that some of the stresses of current living, like the toxins that we’re exposed to, the additives and the preservatives in our food, the fact that most of us have a gut system that’s probably … that barrier is probably not at its best and we’re getting exposure to different chemicals that travel all the way through our bodies, which we can then develop immune responses to.
But one of the theories behind Alzheimer’s and dementia is that it’s actually part of an inflammatory response or an immune response in the brain, where stuff that’s not meant to be there has gotten in and your body is trying to make an intelligent response to control that, but you end up with waste products. You end up with neurofibrillary tangles, which is, again, a mouthful. But that’s the stuff that gets you in the way of how your nerve cells are able to talk to each other.
The smarter we live when we’re younger, the better we’ll be when we’re older. But by the same token, as we age, we can continue to make smart choices and to work the system to its capacity to keep it going well.
Katherine: Yeah. With your book, “Your Brain, Your Life” book, is that supposed to be done in groups, or in pairs, or can you do it by yourself as well?
Dr. Lawson: The idea of it is that it’s written pretty much as a conversation. Just as you and I are talking now, what we tried to do was to, in really plain, simple language, give people some ideas about how they can help yourself. Every chapter has got examples at the back of that chapter and top tips and that sort of thing – of stuff that you can do to help your brain work well.
It’s a terrific resource for someone who is recovering from a brain injury. It’s a great resource for students who are trying to maximise their memory ability and get their study skills under control. It’s really helpful for parents who are looking after little brains as they grow, giving them some tips on how to help that happen really well. Yes, it has lots and lots of applications.
Katherine: Sure. One of the things that interested me when I was reading about it was there is a difference between reacting to a situation and responding to a situation. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Dr. Lawson: Absolutely. Our brain is built in layers, and the very middle, central parts of your brain are the bits that are evolutionary, have been there for a long, long, long time. They drive things like your gut instincts and your gut reactions and your … let’s say your vigilance, how you pay attention to what’s going on around you.
Dr. Lawson: Then, the outer parts, the more sophisticated parts of your brain, they actually quieten down that middle bit and let you know how to be socially appropriate. Okay? If those inner bits are getting too much drive and aren’t being regulated well, that’s when you do the kind of thing like … your colleague at work hasn’t refilled the stapler, and so you decide you’re going to have a screaming match with them in the office.
Now, normally, that’s not something that you would do. Your frontal lobe would take control of that gut instinct to have a full-on argy-bargy with someone, and instead it would say, “Now’s not the right time. Perhaps I’ll just send them a terse email and they can attend to the stapler and do the right thing.” It’s the kind of stuff that drives road rage, tantrums – all those sort of things. That’s when you’re reacting.
Dr. Lawson: When your frontal lobe’s working really, really well, that’s when you respond. You have the instinct, you say, “How can I handle this most appropriately?” and that’s what you do.
Katherine: Yeah, it does make perfect sense. And you’re saying we can train our brain so that we’re always using our frontal lobe, were you saying?
Dr. Lawson: So you’ve got a much greater chance of being able to choose that response, yeah, absolutely.
Katherine: Being more aware. Yeah. Well, lots of interesting insights, and thank you for your tips and for your time today, Dr. Lawson.
Dr. Lawson: You’re very, very welcome.
Katherine: For those of you that would like more information, you can visit Kathleen’s website, which is connectchiropractic.com.au. She also has a health promotion website, that is connectohealth.com.au. Thanks again.
Dr. Lawson: You’re very welcome. Have a great day.