The Most Important Lesson From 83,000 Brain Scans

October 21, 2017

Daniel Gregory Amen is a famous psychiatrist who specializes in brain disorders and is also a Times bestselling author on the side.  In his TED talk, he talks about the most important lesson we can learn from 83,000 different brain scans:

“After 22 years and 83,000 brain scans… the single most important lesson my colleagues and I have learned is that you can change people’s brains. And when you do, you literally change their life.”

He first talks about psychiatry and medical imaging, as well as SPECT imaging which is a tool that helps us understand more about imaging in general.

Over the past 22 years, psychiatrists have built up a massive database of brain scans and what behavior they are related too.

Undeterred by criticism, it’s clear that Dr. Amen is passionate about his work and raises some interesting points. “Did you know that psychiatrists are the only medical specialists that virtually never look at the organ they treat?” He adds, “Before imaging, I always felt like I was throwing darts in the dark with some of my patients and had hurt some of them, which horrified me!” He goes on to point out that each mental disorder fits inside a spectrum, and that every brain is unique: “Treatment needs to be tailored to individual brains, not clusters of symptoms.”

Amen scanned the brains of about 500 convicted felons and discovered something quite interesting and perhaps expected.  People such as convicts who do bad things will have troubled brains, but they can be rehabilitated.  This alone could make us wonder whether or not prison is the best punishment and if treatment would be the better option.

In another study, Amen studied the brains of NFL players who showed poor brain function.  After being put on the Brain Smart program, almost 80% of the players showed an improvements in areas such as memory and mood.

This proves that it is indeed possible to reverse brain damage.  Amen also tells the story of a 9-year-old boy named Andrew who had extremely violent tendencies.  He would lash out and draw disturbing pictures.  Instead of using medication to treat Andrew, Amen used brain scans to find a cyst that was hiding in Andrew’s brain.

After it was removed, his behavioral issues and violent tendencies disappeared.  In the end, Amen then lets the audience know that Andrew was actually his nephew.

Check out the riveting TED talk here:

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