The image above was created using Microsoft Designer, a new AI program to create content and images. The prompt to create this image was, “An intelligent and healthy senior physician, female, using electronic medical records, realistic”.

Artificial Intelligence, where are we headed?

By: Dr. Deborah Gordon, April 10, 2023

I spent the last ten days without wi-fi connectivity at my home—NOT by intention! I still had wi-fi at work and expected of myself the usual degree of work productivity. It drove me crazy!! I have decided that there are two possible explanations:

  1. I really do squeeze in a lot of work in a low-key home environment, which may intrude in my off time, but also de-stresses a rush to be “caught up” when I start my work day.
  2. OR my brain is literally connected to my wi-fi and my brain was as dysfunctional as my modem was during that time as I kept calm over an anxious freak-out.

My Freak Out. I’m going to go with explanation #1 but have also taken seriously my “freak-out.” I have a landline for emergencies, my television still worked for a little entertainment, and I have a Mt. Everest-sized pile of reading material in at least two rooms of my home. Yet I wasn’t dialing my anxiety back in a productive way… until the last day or two.

Here’s what I did for a “quick fix” of a stressor that I knew was limited in time:

  • I picked up my intermittent meditation practice. I particularly like the support of my favorite meditation app called “Waking Up,” hosted by Sam Harris. (If you’re in the office, ask me for a link, he offers a free 30-day trial if I share the link with you personally.) Harris is a no-nonsense, gentle-voiced guide who offers a Daily Meditation, about 10 minutes. I can do that.

  • I noticed my sleep a little more broken up than normal: I added Pregnenolone 25 mg (a supplement by Klaire Labs is the one I take) to my evening vitamins.

  • I opted for non-stressful reading material and evening viewing of a familiar old movie (DVD’s remember those?)

The Connected Brain. No one I’ve told has been surprised at my reaction: “We’re all so connected and dependent on our phones!” Today I was watching a medical lecture on hypertension and the doctor’s office BP measurement protocol involved seating the patient alone for 10 minutes in a quiet room, where they are prevented from texting, acknowledging that’s the hardest part for most people!

Many of our connections are our prized possessions:

  • Text exchanges with family members and close friends, seeing photos of distant loved ones, even cat videos! (Yesplease share if you have a good one!)

  • And work: all our current charting is electronic, more easily shareable, searchable, and portable. The lab results we order through affiliate labs are filed and sorted electronically by our electronic medical record software. (Just one of the reasons I like to choose the lab, when possible, where you get your blood drawn!)

Patients I’ve seen for decades remember my fountain pen and hand-written notes (still available and still legible when I see you in person!), but my old hand-written charts were never such a cherished part of my workday. Who needs filing folders, filing cabinets and the sacrifice of a tree a day for charting and copying!?

My initial response has been another “Freak Out” about the intrusion of AI or Artificial Intelligence into the “art” of medicine. But if I love my computer’s ability to alphabetize and time-order your decade of lab results, aren’t I already relying on and LIKING an algorithm that is an early manifestation of AI?

Whatever my response, AI is coming to the world of medical practice, for good and for ill. Given our current physician shortage, how handy if AI can take over some routine and impersonal functions of medical practice. Psychotherapy has even been taught to interactive AI systems, which are reportedly appreciated and “as effective as human” in some of the trials to date.

Well, it’s time to “buckle up” and choose open-minded curiosity, given that change is inevitable!

Let’s CHAT, With my curious mind engaged, I turned to ChatGPT as a complete newbie and asked Chat the question: “What are the most important ways to keep an aging brain healthy?”

And I have to say… Chat did NOT do a bad job. Plain text is Chat’s response, and italic insertions are the corrections/additions I would offer! Here’s Chat’s response, with my comments:

As we age, it’s important to take steps to keep our brains healthy and functioning well. Here are some of the most important ways to keep an aging brain healthy:

  1. Stay physically active: Regular exercise can help keep your brain healthy by increasing blood flow and oxygen to the brain, as well as promoting the growth of new brain cells. (good choice for #1, Chat, I’m impressed! I would add: See if you can exercise in different ways, including slow paced longer walks, a few brisk or uphill type endeavors and even some heavy lifting. Do some of your activities outside, ideally in natural settings, when possible.)
  1. Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help keep your brain healthy by providing important nutrients and antioxidants. (Okay: Priorities are off here: What you need in order of importance are complex and complete proteins, healthy fats such as olive and avocado and maybe dairy, vegetables are great. Berries are your friendliest fruits and grains are your rarer “treats”—or not!—depending on your blood sugar.)
  1. Stay mentally active: Engage in activities that challenge your brain, such as reading, doing puzzles, or learning a new language or skill. ( Good start, but let’s not forget some good brain training AI: programs such as BrainHQ know how to challenge your strong points and identify and coax your weak links. Give it a try for a month and see if you can stick to it 20 minutes three times a week.)
  1. Get enough sleep: Sleep is essential for brain health and function, so aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night. (Yes…AND: please take it seriously if your sleep is difficult or broken. Chat with a knowledgeable sleep person to find out if your sleep issues have a simple fix—no caffeine after 11 a.m.!—or a complex one, such as a test for sleep apnea.)
  1. Manage stress: Chronic stress can have negative effects on the brain, so it’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises. (Yes and don’t freak out about things you can’t change, like your wi-fi being down for 10 days…)
  1. Stay socially connected: Social isolation and loneliness can have negative effects on brain health, so it’s important to stay connected with friends and family. (Just to add: if you’re more of an introvert, that’s okay, but see if you can find some socially interactive activity: classes at the Y or even online, religious affiliations, or volunteer opportunities.)
  1. Protect your brain: Wear a helmet when biking or engaging in other high-risk activities, and take steps to prevent falls, which can cause traumatic brain injuries. (Good one I don’t usually think of! Let’s add the most high-risk activity of them all: don’t look at your phone while you’re driving!)

By following these tips, you can help keep your aging brain healthy and functioning at its best.

~ ~ ~ ~

So, what are you thinking these days, how strong is your reliance (or dependence) on your “wired” connections? What do you think of the emergence (or intrusion) of Artificial Intelligence into our daily life?

Okay, that’s enough, think I’ll go outside and do a little “Forest Bathing.”