Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brain Fitness Program -- Part 2

The typical 30-year-old commands about 30,000 words. At 80, it's more like 10,000. But understanding brain plasticity can help us forestall some of that degeneration. It doesn't seem so much due to loss of neurons, as to loss of synapses and myelin, the covering on neurons that insulates them.

As we get older, the speed with which we think does slow down. If you then introduce distractors, you could look like you are having trouble: drinks, noise, anxiety, etc.

Older people have a fear of falling. Falling has more to do with brain decline than muscle loss. But when we worry about falling, we do things that contribute--we watch our feet, actually teaching our brain to use our eyes for balance instead of our ears. This is negative plasticity. If we repeat any behavior enough, the path becomes a "rut". One researcher used cognitive therapy with OCD people, telling them to ignore their burdensome compulsive thoughts and view them as "just my brain, not real." This mindful attention improved these patients as well as another group who got standard OCD drugs.

Attention improves our ability to change the brain. We learn what we attend to, and the more mindfully we do that, the better we do. But we also have to attend to new things in order to keep the brain growing and learning. Attending to the same old stuff doesn't contribute to learning. The effort should result in the release of neurochemicals that reward us for the effort. We feel better and have a "brighter" life. Routine tasks don't trigger the same rewards, and don't accomplish neuronal growth. It has to be new and challenging and interesting. We do get some comfort from the familiar stuff, but as we do, we lose the increased enjoyment that we get from learning new tasks.

One of the critical aspects of learning is memory, and the place essential to memory is the hippocampus. Loss in this area results in the inability to form new memories.

Brain-change--harnessing the potential of plasticity:

The show tells the story of a soldier who received a traumatic brain injury. Roger Taub discovered that you can challenge the patient's brain with specialized tasks and regrow some of the lost skills. This depends on neuroplasticity.

Concept of brain-span vs life-span. Plasticity allows the age of the brain to differ from the age of the body.

Another station break.

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