Today in the western world, Alzheimer’s Disease ranks high as a cause of death. This is increasing at a rapid rate as the population ages. By 2050, it is going to be a real crisis. The costs alone to society will be staggering if the trend continues. The good news is that we can do something about it. If you are thinking that there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, that is true. However, we can do certain things to prevent or forestall its development.
We’ve heard the expression, ”You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. We used to believe it to be true for humans, but science has turned that belief system on its head. It has been found that you can indeed teach a young or old brain “new tricks” at any age. Science has discovered through technological developments such as functional MRIs, that the brain does grow new connections at any age, even in our 70s and 80s.
What has been intriguing is the mechanism that stimulates this new production of nerve pathways. The science is Neuroplasticity in which the brain has the capacity to restructure itself and create new neuronal (nerve) connections. This occurs in response to new thoughts, feelings, learning new things, and experiencing new activities. In other words, the brain is flexible or “plastic” and, therefore, can remold itself.
There has been a tendency for society to dismiss people in the older age groups, as “too old” or not being capable of handling certain tasks in the workplace. Over the years, many seniors have been retired from companies because they were made to feel unwanted or the company had policies setting a certain age as the time to retire. Thankfully, this is changing. There is a recognition that people in their 60s and even 70s can be productive in the workplace if they so choose.
So how do we achieve Neuroplasticity? How do we create the environment where new connections are formed in our brains? The necessary component for this to occur doing something different. Changing from what we have always done to something new and different, and doing something that is challenging.
This process affects not only mental capacities but also physical ones. For instance, when victims of stroke become paralyzed or semi-paralysed, challenging them to stress their body’s muscles to work results in neuroplastic changes in the brain. This allows adjacent areas––that haven’t been damaged––to take up the slack and start taking on new functions, giving the person ability to walk again on their own.
The important thing to realize is that anytime you do something new and different, you will create some degree of neuroplasticity.
Here is a list of some things that you can do; you can probably come up with many of your own:
- Take up a musical instrument or singing
- Write a book
- Take up a new exercise regime
- Do brain exercises such as crosswords and use online apps such as Lumosity
- Take up dancing
- Go on a different sort of travel adventure
- Learn a new language
You may be thinking at this point, “Do I have to?” or “I just want to relax and enjoy life”. Spending your time relaxing will not activate your brain. There is just too much research now showing that we need to be active mentally and physically as we age. By doing so, you can also enjoy life more. If you have disabilities, do what you can to your level of tolerance.
We are all different, but we have an incredible potential beyond what many of us believe.
So get your brain and body active, and just do it!
Editor’s Note: Dr Adele Thomas, semi-retired medical doctor, and Dr Ely Lazar, retired chiropractor, are on a new mission as the Passionate Retirees. They are dedicated to inspiring the over 50s to live fulfilling and adventurous lives, so that “the twilight years will be the highlight years”. Their book, “Travel Secrets For Seniors” was released in early 2014. With more than 80 years combined of professional experience, their articles, books and workshops cover a range of topics from travel, health, relationships, sexuality and finances for seniors.
“Adele and Ely have always impressed me with their exceptional knowledge, professionalism and positive attitude. Mention their name and the one word that always comes up is respect.” – John Ross, Master Networker