• Breaking the cycle of poverty: How the brain can impact the less fortunate

    By: Jim Spiewak

    Updated:

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. - In many cities across the country, people are breaking the cycle of poverty, but not in Memphis.  A connection between poverty and the brain helps explain why.  

    Doctors are able to rewire a person’s brain to help them better function in society.  

    The part of the brain to retrain is called the executive function. That allows a person to multi-task and communicate. Beth Babcock, PhD is one of the pioneers in the research.  

    She said the results of her training program can be seen in less than one year.

    “The stresses associated with poverty actually make it harder for the brain to do the work that it has to do to manage complex problems and organize and persist in the face of challenges,” said Babcock.  


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    Take a woman we are only identifying as Lashauna for example. Her dad was a drug addict, and she grew up poor.  

    She worked in low and mid-wage jobs for most of her adult life. She found out about Babcock’s program, and decided it was time for a change.  

    “I'm homeless. I'm pregnant, and then I ended up on bed rest so I couldn't work. That was probably the lowest time I think I ever had,” Lashauna said.  

    Babcock said, “The research is really solid that poverty itself and the stresses associated with poverty actually make it harder for the brain to do the work that it has to do to manage complex problems and organize and persist in the face of challenges.”  

    Babcock added the way people break the cycle of poverty has changed.

    “It was sorta what we used to call, 'Uncle Harry will get you in the union' (laughter) you know. Now a-days just getting someone connected to a job doesn't work.”  

    Today, it takes more than a high school education to find work that provides for a family. 18% of Memphians do not have a high school diploma.  

    “I think that means we have to rewrite the war on poverty,” Babcock said, and she has a solution, rewire the brain and jump start the executive function.  

    Lashauna said she's proof of it working.

    “Before the program, I would get depressed, based off of circumstances and now it's like ok, so this happened, how are we going to rebound?”  said Lashauna.

    With a new mindset, Lashauna quit her low paying job and went back to school.  

    After graduating college, she is now making a living her entire family has only ever dreamed about.  

    Her father then posted to Facebook when he realized she was the first in her family to break the cycle of poverty.  

    “That was the first time he acknowledged that you know what I have, an awesome kid and she's doing amazing things,” Lashauna said. 

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