When Your Brain Pays You Back

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From Gulf Medical University, UAE.

With a global obsession to look younger, there is another aspect we need to focus on— preserving our minds and cognitive abilities against a forgetful memory or Alzheimer’s disease in the future. HEALTH delves deeper.


What Science Says

The primary gear that the body runs by is our nervous system and the cardinal stone of this is our brain that bestows us with thinking and cognition. Our bodies are composed of cells that are combined and create the brain. The brain factually is composed of approximately 100 billion, irreplaceable long-lived cells, and scientists say that it is like a piece of plastic that can be reshaped, get rewired with its nerve cells connections, and like a computer, you can reinstall or uninstall programs (habits and patterns of thoughts.) It is this flexibility of the brain that is referred to scientifically as “neuroplasticity”.

You are Your Cells

We think of ourselves holistically, so as aging progresses, we start to get wrinkles and we get fatigued more easily, but since we are the summation of approximately 40 trillion cells; factually, we age because our cells age. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is usually developed in some people primarily when they age. The person starts to develop symptoms of memory loss and cognitive faculty deterioration.

The Big Question

Is there a preventive measure we can do or take? According to science, the answer is yes. The answer lies under what they call “cognitive reserve” (CR) which is like a reservoir of your mental capabilities which enables you to continue performing your activities which despite if AD starts to affect you, you would have a backup.

How CR works?

When an individual has AD, the brain starts to get eaten slowly and symptoms are developed as a result. It is here when CR via utilizing neuroplasticity plays its card. This partially can be explained as follows. New circuits of nerve cells connections are formed, or by using the same already existing intact networks more efficiently, or by shifting the task to alternative circuits, thus bypassing the damaged area and taking over its task. CR can be imparted by tackling the daily activities of our lives as some habits and behavior patterns can increase the reservoir and thus, will have a protective measure against AD.

The Factors

This potentially includes three factors; firstly, intellectual activities which stimulate our thinking, for instance, by challenging our minds as in solving problems or seeking education. Secondly, the social activities of the person: an individual with strong familial and social bonds, utilizes leisure time productively, or attends religious meetings are a few examples of protective factors. Lastly are physical activities which will enhance the blood circulation to the brain and thus, improve its function. By practicing these behavior patterns, the brain will pay you back by providing you with a reservoir of protective factors to guard against early manifestation of AD.

(Written by: Muhammad Al-Salman, 4th year medical student at Gulf Medical University and reviewed by Prof. Sovan Bagchi, professor of physiology, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Gulf Medical University.)

Sources: Stern Y, Cognitive reserve in ageing and Alzheimer’s disease, Lancet Neurol. Scarmeas N et al, Influence of leisure activity on the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease, Neurology. Scarmeas N et al, Cognitive reserve and lifestyle, J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. Larson E.B. Risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia, UpToDate.

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