Behind Hayley Teasdale’s tall, athletic physique is not just a brilliant mind, but an illness that could have killed her. And still could without the ongoing assistance of the Red Cross Blood Centre.
Hayley suffers from an immune deficiency condition that went undetected until she reached university.
“I went all through school being undiagnosed. I just accepted it as being normal,” Hayley explained.
One message Hayley is keen to impart, through her TEDx address and the attention that can generate, is get out and donate blood and plasma. “I wouldn’t be here today if not for the Red Cross.”
Despite a love of basketball, netball and yachting, Hayley often found herself ill during her earlier years. But there was a silver lining to all the free time the illness afforded her. Hayley put that time to good use, reading ferociously. “I had to use my brain because my body was out of action for so much of the time,” she said.
One author, scientist and speaker who caught Hayley’s attention was Dr Oliver Sacks. The work of Dr Sacks, a British-born neurologist who spent the bulk of his career in the United States, inspired Hayley to pursue a similar path.
Dr Sacks passed away last year, but his work has found fertile soil in Hayley’s imagination and ongoing studies, which are now devoted to neuroplasticity.
“It’s pretty much the way your brain can learn, [the way] it makes new pathways or gets rid of old pathways that you’re not using, and in that way your brain is plastic. Throughout your whole life, you’re capable of this change. Your neurons can join other neurons and make new synapses and new pathways. My work is about utilising that. It’s endlessly fascinating,” Haley said.
“There’s a lot of stuff you can do in cognitive training. Nobody is perfect when it comes to memory or attention, there’s always room for improvement and neuroplasticity shows us that you can train that – it’s all about practice. And then you have someone with Parkinson’s disease and they have parts of their brain that are damaged and not functioning normally, so what we can do is create new pathways.”
For the last year, Hayley’s research has focused on studying the effects of training the brain via neuroplasticity and she has a surprisingly simple message for those interested in improving themselves.
“Well actually, it’s just exercise,” Haley said. “The simplest exercise anyone can do that will give anyone improvement is walking or running … Exercise improves cognitive ability and physical ability.”
Another simple exercise any of us can do to help the brilliant and non-brilliant alike is to donate blood and plasma. It may just save the life of a neuroscientist.
Author Myles Peterson is part of the TEDx Canberra media team.