Brain Health and Aging

One of the myths of aging is being debunked by new research about brain health. Using imaging techniques not available in years past has helped researchers unlock a new understanding about how the brain functions. What they have discovered is now being described as the theory of cognitive reserve. Understanding cognitive reserve helps explain how lifestyle changes can help maintain brain health. It could be compared to having money is a savings account – a reserve that can be called upon to support healthy brain functioning, even in the face of brain disease like Alzheimer’s.

What are the key findings about cognitive reserve?  The following three key findings hold promise for us as we age:

  • We grow new brain cells throughout our lives.

Researchers have now been able to document that we continue to grow brain cells throughout our lives. The brain is fully developed by age twenty-five, but by incorporating brain-healthy lifestyle behaviors into our routines, like physical activity, we can grow new cells and connections throughout our lives. These new cells and connections create a reserve for our brains. This information has helped explain why some folks may have brain changes suggestive of Alzheimer’s, for example, but who never develop symptoms because they have cognitive reserve that allows their brains to function well in spite of the changes.

  • Our brain grows new connections between brain cells.

Cells that fire together wire together. That means that when you practice a skill, your brain will make new connections, or "wire" together more, making the brain stronger and more resistant to disease. This theory, called Hebbs Law, demonstrates that our brains have neuroplasticity and are able to grow and become healthier the more we intentionally challenge and explore ways to keep our minds and brains active.

  • We all forget things. It doesn’t mean we are getting dementia.

More often than not, our memories are affected by how well we pay attention. Paying attention is essential to having a good memory. The more we engage in seeing, hearing, feeling, and otherwise being “present in the moment,” the more likely we are to remember.  

What are some ways that you can improve your attention? By being aware of our environment – opening our eyes and looking up and around. This is part of being “present in the moment.”

Another way of being present in the moment is by becoming aware of the internal chatter that goes on in our brains while we are in conversation with others. This chatter gets in the way of our being able to give our full attention to listening to the other person, resulting in our having an incomplete recollection of the conversation.

These are just a few ways we can improve brain health. This is an exciting time to be alive and learning about the potential for brain growth and development. In future posts, we will explore more about ways to improve brain health. Also, please check out future programming events provided by Berea Home Village. Notice that each of these events will provide opportunities for you to grow and stretch your mind, body, and spirit as you reimagine a future of good health and wellbeing.

Source: Boost Your Brain and Memory, Mather Lifeways, Institute on Aging, retrieved 3.24.18.

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