Many people assume that any positive growth to the brain stops in adulthood and that as we age, we have to gird for a period of brain cell loss and reduced mental functioning..
But there are some people who have brain disease (neuropathology) and still continue to function normally, while others who have a brain disease like dementia express bizarre behavior. The difference between the two types of people is likely this: we seem to have a reserve section of brain cells that can be prodded into growing. The question becomes how do we grow that reserve of brain cells?
There are different activities that help grow brain cells in adulthood. It’s been scientifically demonstrated that taxi drivers activate an exercise their brain while learning different routes in the course of their travels with their fares. Bus drivers, who drive a set route, have been shown not to have any brain increases in size. A similar result can be demonstrated when older adults return to grad school and have to study for their thesis: they have larger brain cell activation compared to their peers. Music students who study an instrument intensely have been shown to actually be growing their hippocampus (a part of the brain) while they study. In a study of older adults, those who regularly played a musical instrument or danced with a partner were less likely to develop dementia.
The Types of Dementia
- Alzheimer’s Disease –
This is the most common type of dementia. It starts out mild and progressively gets worse over the years.
- Lewy Body – Lewy body is a form of dementia that forms when protein gathers in clusters in the brain. With this type of dementia, patients can vacillate between states of confusion and a clear state of mind. Sometimes people can have disturbing patterns of sleep and even act out parts of their dreams.
- Vascular Dementia – When damage occurs in the blood vessels and arteries, particularly those that carry blood to the heart and brain, that’s when vascular dementia occurs. with this type of venture can result in confusion, unstable moods and memory loss. Vascular dementia can also cause stroke and heart infections.
- Frontotemporal Dementia – When the nerves in the front part of the brain are damaged, this caan result in frontotemporal dementia. Patients with this type of dementia often experience problems concentrating as well as speech problems. Sometimes the patient can have unpredictable behaviors.
So the key to avoiding dementia is for older adults to develop the reserve of brain cells they already have. The best way to grow these extra brain cells is to do something difficult but not something so difficult that you feel stressed. It’s best to find something that places you outside your comfort area and introduces some uncertainty. Your brain can then face hardship, do some “labor”, and come out withe some hard won intelligence. So whenever you face a unique situation, this will give your brain a chance to adapt and develop.