The brain is made up of over 100 billion neurons. Some research even says, we know more about space than we do about our own brain! Many people have heard the myth that we only use 10% of our brains. Research suggests that we use 100%; however, this misconception comes from the idea that we only use about 10% at one time. Some research suggests that with mind strengthening exercise a person may be able to use beyond 10% at any given time.
There is mounting research on brain health and neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a term that refers to changes in the brain throughout our lives because of our behavior, lifestyles, and choices. Our environment, thoughts, emotions, and relationships influence the firing of our synapses along neural pathways in the brain. When the brain has suffered an injury or is affected by dementia, therapeutic approaches can be used to help the brain reroute the synaptic network of information-processing to compensate for areas that are not working. Plasticity is the brain’s ability to detour around an injured part of the brain to find new ways to perform lost skills.
With every challenge comes an opportunity. A dementia diagnosis is no exception. Given the right approaches to care and a supportive environment, people with dementia can increase their neuroplasticity. Doing so can improve their cognitive abilities and slow their dementia-related symptoms.
Parts of the brain grow and strengthen like a muscle when they are used and challenged continuously. Knowing that people with dementia can still learn through sensory-based experiences and Procedural Learning, we must continue to allow them to experience life to whatever degree they’re most able. Finding ways to overcome challenges have a positive effect on the brain. When individuals are encouraged, supported, and empowered to find the strength within themselves to overcome challenges, the result is a stronger brain.
Take, for example, London’s fleet of taxi drivers, who do not use GPS or any other navigational devices. They rely on training and memory, which is developed through Procedural Learning. They drive different routes across the streets of London repeatedly until they have committed the map to memory. During this process, the taxi driver’s hippocampus actually grows in size because of continuous learning. The same result is possible for people with dementia. If they are in an environment where they are encouraged and enabled to continue active learning, they can strengthen and build upon their existing cognitive function.
Some tips to keep your brain healthy:
- Try to learn something new. Research shows that the act of learning new things (known as novel learning) stimulates the brain and fosters neuroplasticity (aka growth of neurons).
- Allow your brain to digest new information. Think of your brain like a stomach. It takes in information like our stomach takes in food. And just like our stomachs, it needs time to digest and process this information.
- Try to use your non-dominate hand. Each hand is linked to a different part of the brain. Trying to brush your teeth or write with you non-dominate hand fosters neuroplasticity.
- Try to reduce the amount of sugar and carbohydrates that you consume. Nutritional authorities from all over the world state that too much sugar and too many carbohydrates may cause brain fog or difficulty concentrating
By Joshua Freitas, M.Ed., BC-DEd, CAEd; Vice President of Program Development & Theodosia Heiserman, DP-NC; Resident Engagement Director
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