Thursday, June 05, 2008

Brain Fitness Program -- Part 3

Learning happens all the time. How do we drive the right kind of learning?

1. Learning can only occur when we are in the right "mood".

We must be engaged in the task in order to trigger plasticity.

2. Change strengthens connections between neurons that are activated at the same time.

Things that happen together "go together" in our brains. Practice makes perfect by saving a combination of connections that "work" while casting off those that don't.

3. Neurons that fire together wire together. Components of activity that occur at the same time create connections. Visual input coordinates with memory and sound and balance, etc.

When we think of "farm", it activates a constellation of related ideas.

4. Initial changes are just temporary. If the outcome of an event is evaluated as good or important, we convert the memory to long-term. Doesn't have to be dramatic. It can also happen through repetition.

5. Brain plasticity is a two-way street. We can drive positively or negatively. Chronic pain and bad habits are plasticity in action. A malleable brain is a vulnerable brain.

6. Memory is crucial to learning. The model of what we want to do is held in memory and as we act, we evaluate the outcome against the model.

7. Motivation is a key factor in brain plasticity. Wanting to improve or master a skill makes the learning more likely and successful. The story of Pedro Bach-y-Rita recovering from a stroke gave insight into how the brain reorganizes and refines.

If we don't learn, we become boring. We seek comfort instead of novelty.

To learn, your heart must be healthy. The task should be challenging, but not too difficult.

Neuroplasticity is the default mode of the brain. We just need to take advantage of it by staying active and interested.

It's about living to the very end of life. More than half of us by age 85 can no longer maintain our independence and may be "non compos mentis".

Be encouraged to know that if you exercise your brain in the right ways, you will feel better and retain your vitality and independence.

Overall, I found this an accurate and informative program. They focused on general accepted aspects of current theory and explain most of them with clarity, if a bit simply. I'm a bit ambivalent about the "Fitness Gym" that the show promotes, mainly because I think one would get better effect from simply having lots of interests and pursuing them. One thinks of the writer or artist or musician who remains sharp, active and fully competent long past 85. But certainly for those who have not necessarily lived a very active mental life, a "gym" to regain the necessary skills probably makes good sense.

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