Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Interview With Neuropsychologist Dr. Barbara Koltuska-Haskin


1.      Dr. Koltuska-Haskin, what inspired you to pen How My Brain Works? My patients have been my toughest teachers and inspiration for over 30 years of my professional career. Many of them would say,“ You know so much, you needs to write a book”, so here it is. I cannot fail them, so I have to constantly educate myself   how to serve them better. Now I see in my office the 3rd generation of my patients and they say that they only trust me as their doctor and it is my greatest reward to hear that. 

2.      Why is it so difficult for people to discuss things like head trauma, dementia, or mental illness? Because there is still shame and stigma associated with mental problems and there should be none.  They are just diseases associated with different parts of our body.  As with any other diseases, they require a proper diagnosis and treatment. They can be treated and/or managed well so the patient still has a quality of life and this is the most important thing for all of us. 

3.      For over three decades you have been helping people as a neuropsychologist. Tell us, please: How do we maintain optimal brain health?  I always talk to my patients about a healthy lifestyle. This includes healthy eating, exercising, mindfulness, gratitude, and getting enough sleep. Our brain doesn’t work in isolation. The healthier our body, the better our brain will function. 

4.      What can be done to avoid brain injuries in the first place? Most brain injuries are a result of motor vehicle accidents and falls. Therefore, drive safely and keep yourself physically fit to prevent falls. Doing balance exercises, especially when we get older, is important. Not everybody knows that walking is a balance exercise and also the best Alzheimer’s prevention. I encourage all my patients to walk at least 30 minutes daily.  

5.      What is critical about the evaluation process when determining if one has brain damage -- and if so, to what extent? I would say, the most important is the patient’s cooperation, willingness and openness to the process. I cannot evaluate a patient against his/her will. Therefore, if I the patient is brought to the evaluation by family members, but believes that he/she is OK and does not need it, then we cannot proceed. In that situation, I try to explain how the neuropsychological evaluation can be beneficial for the patient and majority of the time, it works.  

6.      Is it the end of life once someone is diagnosed with a brain problem? Not at all, most brain problems can be treated and/or managed so the patient still has a quality of life.  

7.      How do you help people focus and concentrate better? First, we need to find out what is the source of their attention/ concentration problems. Not all attention/ concentration problems   are a result of   ADHD or ADD. Difficulty in this area can be a result of medical and/or emotional problems, poor sleep, stress, trauma, etc. Once the source is determined then we can provide the proper recommendations.  

8.      Can one get their memory back after a concussion, accident or tumor?  Yes, but it depends on the extend of the injury or location of the tumor and results are also very individual. Some people with quite severe brain injury can recover quite well and some with a mild concussion can have lingering cognitive problems for a long time.  

9.      How do you help care providers -- and the families -- of people who suffer from a brain-related ailment? I always try to include family members into the exit session when the results and recommendations are discussed, unless the patient does not agree to it, but this is very rare. Family participation is critical in the patient’s recovery. Also, all health care providers for whom the patient signs the release of information form are given a report of the neuropsychological evaluation and some are call me to discuss the case even further and this is great!  

10.   What roles do nutrition, exercise, and yoga play in one's brain health? They all are very important because most everything health wise is related to our diet and lifestyle behaviors. I believe that food is our medicine, so it is important to have proper nutrition.   A huge amount of research links physical activity to brain health. Some research suggest that exercising is the best Alzheimer’s prevention. I also strongly believe in Yoga’s therapeutic ability. It helps you center the body mind and spirit, and to manage stress.  

For more information, please visit:  www.drkoltuska.com. 

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