Brain Health and Development Readings
To test your mental acuity, answer the following; the full set of questions, including answers, can be found at forbes.com. Be sure to give yourself a minute, because the answer may be more obvious than you think.Johnny's mother had three children. The first child was named April. The second child was named May. What was the third child's name?, A clerk at a butcher shop stands five feet ten inches tall and wears size 13 sneakers. What does he weigh?, Before Mt. Everest was discovered, what was the highest mountain in the world?, How much dirt is there in a hole that measures two feet by three feet by four feet?. Read on at forbes.com View more Brain Health and Development Readings: 10 Brainteasers to Test Your Mental Sharpness
Some exciting research in the 1990's showed that adult brains grow new brain cells right up until the moment of death! These new brain cells seem to play a role in our ability to form new memories because they grow predominantly in the areas of the brain that form new memories (the hippocampus and the structures surrounding it). These are the areas of the brain first affected by Alzheimer's disease. One of the reasons this disease is so devastating is that forming new memories is key to staying mentally sharp and remaining a functional member of society. Unfortunately, we do not grow new brain cells at the same rate that we grow cells in other parts of our bodies. Skin cells for example, grow much faster. So when a person develops Alzheimer's disease, the brain is not able to repair itself as quickly as his or her skin repairs a cut or scrape. This is why prevention is essential! The best prevention that we know of so far is to invest in your cognitive reserve. This means developing lifestyle patterns that are known to lower your risk of memory loss, including behaviors that promote the growth and utilization of new brain cells.One important thing to know about new brain cells is that they are fragile creatures when they are first born. In fact, they are stem cells that can take on any role or function. Unfortunately, they have to be assigned a role or a function in order to survive. Therefore, it is important to nurture your new brain cells and help them "get jobs". We do this by learning new things and staying active. By using TheCognitiveReserve.com, you will learn about and take steps to implement lifestyle habits that are associated with growing more brain cells and helping them become part of the complex network of existing brain pathways. This is key to building your cognitive reserve and lowering your risk for memory loss. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Adults Grow New Brain Cells
The Alzheimer's Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life by Gary Small, M.D. and Gigi VorganA book review by Sherrie All, Ph.D.In this latest addition to his series of books aimed at improving memory and healthy aging (see also The Memory Bible and The Longevity Bible), Dr. Small makes the case that we should change our thinking about Alzheimer's disease. He argues that even though the scientific community is not quite ready to call Alzheimer's disease a preventable disease -- preferring to hold out for longitudinal studies like the Framingham Heart Study -- there will likely be a consensus among scientists within the next decade to view Alzheimer's disease as preventable in the same way that we view cancer and heart disease. In the mean time, he contends that the mounting evidence linking certain lifestyle behaviors to Alzheimer's risk is enough for him to not wait to get the word out! Even if we are not able to prevent Alzheimer's disease, delaying its onset translates into considerable benefits in terms of greater independence, reduced cost and better quality of life.In The Alzheimer's Prevention Program, Dr. Small demonstrates how several lifestyle factors, from physical exercise to stress reduction, are linked to reducing the risk and/or delaying the onset of dementia. He illustrates these links with both results from scientific studies and vivid examples of the benefits he has seen in his patients and friends.But this book isn't all about the science. In making his case for the new view of Alzheimer's disease, Dr. Small offers practical interventions, all wrapped up in his entertaining and relatable writing style. He even includes assessments for you to benchmark your risk in various lifestyle areas and offers practical solutions for lifestyle change should you fall short. The program is quite motivating as he demonstrates how each small lifestyle change could delay the onset of dementia. Even if each change delayed the onset by a year or two, implementing just a few changes could quickly mount to 5 or more years of increased independence.It's never too late or too early to make small changes to build and maintain your Cognitive Reserve. Dr. Small's Alzheimer's Prevention Program can provide you added help as you continue to invest in your Brain's 401K. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Alzheimers Prevention Program: Keep Your Brain Healthy for the Rest of Your Life
The last 15 to 20 years of brain research have sparked a revolution in the way the adult brain is understood. For decades, scientists believed that after early adulthood the brain was fully developed and only declined from then on. Scientists once thought that that the adult brain did not grow new brain cells and that, once an area of the brain was injured, the function associated with that area of the brain could not recover. Scientists also felt that the connections between brain cells were fixed or "hardwired", much like the inner components of a machine. However, these beliefs were only assumptions based on a limited ability to perceive the infinite complexities of the human brain. Recent discoveries in brain science have turned these assumptions on their heads! We now understand that our brains undergo sophisticated changes throughout our lifetimes including growing new brain cells. Scientists have discovered that not only can the brain re-wire itself after injury, this sort of re-wiring occurs throughout our lives every time we learn something new. New physical connections or pathways between brain cells are made every time we learn a new skill. Also, the more we practice a skill, the stronger and bigger the physical brain connection becomes. This is the foundation of Brain Plasticity, meaning that the brain is "plastic" or pliable. In other words, changeable! View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Brain Plasticity
Scramble With Friends is one of the newest smartphone app games offered by Zynga, the company that seems to have a lock on addictive social games including Words With Friends (Scrabble via app) and Hanging With Friends (an app version of Hangman). Scramble With Friends is available for iPhone, other iOS devices and Android devices.You play Scramble With Friends by challenging your cell phone contacts, Facebook friends, Twitter connections or random opponents to a fast paced game of word formation. Random letters are presented in a 4X4 grid, and players form words of any length possible by running their fingers over the letters side-to-side, up and down and diagonally all while racing against a 2-minute timer that can be both motivating and moderately anxiety producing. Players stay motivated to practice the game with consistent updates letting them know their friends are playing and it is their turn. Plus it is quite motivating to try and one up your friends.This game seems to have some important brain benefits by increasing processing speed, spatial perception, visual scanning and language production. Improved visual scanning and processing speed have been shown to delay the onset of dementia. Quick access to the word banks in your brain is also an important skill to keep in shape, because this is one of the first skills to be affected by Alzheimer's disease. Attention control also seems to be a skill that is necessary for successful play. This is evident in my household by the quick "shush's" that my husband and I issue to one another while we are deep inside in our 2-minute attention tunnel. I recommend playing with a variety of opponents with varying skill levels to keep yourself motivated. I play against my husband who routinely doubles my score, which motivates me to aspire to giving it my best, a couple of random opponents who I routinely beat by a pretty wide margin, helping me feel good from some successes, and a couple of friend opponents who score very close to my score. These neck-and-neck battles really kick my competitive drive into high gear. You can download Scramble With Friends and all of the other addictive social apps from Zynga. Let us know about your experiences playing Scramble With Friends or any other addictive social game by Zynga. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Build Language Skills and Reaction Time with Scramble With Friends
Words With Friends was the first in a line of addictive social app game developed by Zynga that have become incredibly popular. The spin-off's include Hanging With Friends and Scramble With Friends. Words With Friends makes playing Scrabble cool again! But more importantly, it may be helping people all over, young and old, build up their Cognitive Reserve.Words With Friends, like it's model Scrabble, challenges players to expand their vocabulary. Strong language skills in early adulthood was one of the strongest predictors of withstanding dementia later in life in the famous Nun Study.
The game is played on the smartphone or tablet device pretty much the same way you play Scrabble, except with this version you can challenge your friends who live across the country or even play against random opponents across the world. Players are presented with a virtual Scrabble board, complete with all of the double letter and triple word score bonuses in the original version. A scrambled mix of letter tiles is presented at the bottom of the screen, and players work to form words to earn points. After a word is formed, the virtual board is sent off through cyberspace to your opponent for his or her turn.Playing against your friends promotes motivation to continue doing this mental exercise. It's sort of like having a gym buddy for your daily brain work out. You can also chat through the app, sending text messages that don't count against the texting limit on your cell phone plan.If you have not tried Words With Friends yet, you can download the app on your to your Apple device, your Android device, or play on Facebook.
Let us know your experiences playing this brain healthy game. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Build Reserve with Words With Friends
Mental stimulation is available nowadays through computer exercises specifically designed to stimulate important brain functions, typically referred to as brain games. You may have noticed a rapid growth of new brain games over the past 10 years! The main reason for this is because brain games provide a very efficient and cost-effective means of delivering brain stimulation. Beyond that a growing body of research is showing that many of these tasks can effectively help delay the onset of dementia, help people maintain independence longer, maintain a better quality of life and even help stave off depression.Regarding their efficiency and cost effectiveness, computer brain games can drive reaction time in ways that simply cannot be accomplished any other way. Practicing a memory task on your computer can cost a lot less money than taking a memory class. (Although memory classes are also a good idea as new research is showing their effectiveness for improving memory and delaying dementia as well.)
We have included brain games for you here in the TheCognitiveReserve.com. You may have already tried out some of our brain games. If you have not tried them yet then we encourage you to give them a try. We think they can be quite fun, and we encourage you to maintain your mental stimulation with these games! Also keep in mind that you get the most bang for your buck when you learn and practice a new game. So once a game becomes relatively easy or routine, then it is time to move on to something new.Which of TheCognitiveReserve.com brain games have you tried yet? Which brain game is your favorite? View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Computer Brain Games
Diabetes can have both short-term and long-term effects on the brain. In the short-term, high blood sugar can reduce thinking and the ability to perform simple tasks. This happens because high blood sugar makes the red blood cells too fat to fit into the very tiny branches at the end of the arterial tree. If blood sugar remains elevated for prolonged periods (as in inadequately controlled diabetes), these deficits may become permanent. Chronically elevated blood sugar can also contribute to hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) and increase the risk of stroke. Kidney damage and retinal damage caused by uncontrolled diabetes can also lower cognitive reserve. While the impact on the brain is more indirect, the mechanism of this damage from diabetes is the same. The brian is not the only place in the body that is fed by the tiny capillaries of the arterial system. The other major locations of these tiny capillaries are the tips of the fingers and toes, the kidneys and the eyes. So when the red blood cells become engorged when blood sugar is too high, these parts of the body lose blood flow and break down over time as well. As you may know, kidneys are important for filtering out toxins from our blood. If toxins build up in the blood from poorly functioning kidneys, the brain suffers from a condition called toxemia. Cognitive reserve is also dependent on the brain receiving consistent stimulation in order for the circuits of the brain to remain active, well connected to one another and thus remain alive. Therefore, maintaining good vision is an important source of sensory input to the brain. If the retinas are damaged by chronic high blood sugar caused by diabetes, then cognitive reserve is lost. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Diabetes Effects on the Brain
Food, thoughts and memories have long been felt to be connected. Who, after all, has not heard the expression "You are what you eat," or is not familiar with the idea that the taste and smell of a particular food item can trigger an old memory? Brain research has now demonstrated a link between mental function and our diets. We now know that our levels of cognitive reserve and what we eat are intricately related. As you've been learning, the concept of cognitive reserve is the idea that our brains can resist the effects of the little injuries of daily life that turn into the accumulated effects of aging and rob us of our mental powers. People who have higher levels of cognitive reserve can weather these accumulated deductions to a greater degree than those with lower levels of cognitive reserve, drawing upon the extra brainpower they have stored in the bank to keep their minds functioning in top form despite the advancing years. Each of us has a different level of cognitive reserve and, therefore, a different level of resistance to the development of dementia. The good news is that our levels of cognitive reserve can be enhanced through lifestyle changes, therefore giving us some control over the aging of our brains. Diet is one of the important lifestyle elements that appears to play an role in building and maintaining cognitive reserve. We felt a program without a brain healthy diet would be incomplete. That is why we included the Mediterranean Diet in TheCognitiveReserve.com program. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Diet and the Brain
Our brains are built to handle stress, and stress is a normal process we use to cope with the challenges we face in our daily lives. When a stressful situation occurs, our body reacts by releasing hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine that allow us to be more vigilant of our surroundings and prepare our bodies for physical exertion (by raising blood pressure and heart rate) in case we need to fight, perform better or run away (the fight or flight response caused by the sympathetic nervous system or SNS). Throughout history this response has been beneficial because it makes us activated enough to do what we need to do to protect ourselves and be productive. In these situations the stress response happens within a reasonable amount of time. It does not have a great impact on our brains because it was meant to be followed by the opposite arousal state of "rest and digest" (caused by the parasympathetic nervous system or PNS). But sometimes short-term and long-term stress can get in our way and may actually harm us. There are two very important ways that stress affects our brains and our thinking ability. Short-term effects = distraction. Stress and anxiety can actually interfere with our attention, memory and planning abilities. The stress response increases our attention, but really only for threatening information, which distracts us from other types of information. You can probably think of many times when you've been faced with a stressful situation, for example, having an argument with a loved one or waiting for test results from a doctor, where you then had trouble concentrating on other things. That's because the blood supply that provides our brain with fuel (oxygen and glucose) is limited in how it services different parts of our brains. Of course unless we are having a stroke, our whole brain gets a constant supply of blood flow, but when one part of the brains working hard, it gets a boost in blood supply. These boosts are limited, and if they are being used heavily by one brain region, it is really difficult for another region to get the boost it needs to work properly. When we are in a fight or flight situation that is particularly intense, the emotional part of our brain gets a big boost of blood flow, but that can deprive the "thinking" regions of our brain of the boosts they need to think clearly, pay attention, and remember things. Scientists who study cognitive abilities have documented that when people are very anxious, they often perform worse on cognitive tests. So stress could be a big reason why you may have trouble remembering things. , Long-term effects = lower cognitive reserve. As you learned above, the stress response triggers the release of chemicals in the brain that help us get out of sticky situations and survive. The normal pattern of stress responses throughout evolution has been for there to be a temporary increase in stress levels to ensure survival (such as running away from a predator) followed by an extended period of relaxation. However, as humans we have the unique ability of raising our stress levels from our thoughts and worries. When our lives are hectic or we are going through a hard time, our stress response is often turned on for a prolonged period of time. This causes stress hormones to build up in our brains, and scientists are finding that high levels of these hormones such as cortisol can kill brain cells and prevent us from growing new ones. Stress also elevates our blood pressure, and as you have been learning, elevated blood pressure puts a strain on our vascular system and can lower reserve by contributing to tiny strokes that we don't notice but that can affect our brains and thinking ability over time, making us more vulnerable to developing a dementia. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce the impact of stress on your brain, which is the topic for the reading later this week. Remember, a certain amount of stress is healthy and a necessary part of life. Stress management is the key, not stress elimination. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Effects of Stress on Cognitive Reserve
Draw Something is the latest addition to the addictive social app games that so many people are playing these days on their smartphones. With it we finally have a social app offering that exercises the right side (or hemisphere) of the brain too!
Other popular social app games such as Words With Friends, Hanging With Friends and Scramble With Friends are good for exercising the language circuits of the left hemisphere (in most people - there are some folks with reversed hemispheres). But brain fitness and building a robust Cognitive Reserve account is all about diversifying your Brain 401 contributions.
From crossword puzzles to the word-based apps listed above, so many of the everyday brain exercises that we encounter exercise our language networks of the left hemisphere that the visuo-spatial networks of the right hemisphere are often neglected. So it is a good idea to exercise the visuo-spatial skills of your right hemisphere as well. Now you can do so in a fun and social way with Draw Something.
Draw Something challenges users to do just what it says "Draw Something." Unlike some of the other social games, Draw Something is more collaborative than competitive. You and the person you are playing with work hard to build up as long of a streak of successful rounds as you can. When you challenge your a friend to Draw Something, you are presented with a selection of three objects to draw (sometimes they are concepts or even celebrities) that range from easy to difficult. Picking a more difficult choice will earn you more coins, which you can later exchange for perks, but it also increases the risk of breaking your streak with your friend. You can change ink colors and size of your brush. Then you try to draw something rather easy like a "basketball" or something harder like "Justin Bieber" with your finger onto your smartphone. You can erase mistakes and redraw. The whole process is recorded and sent off to your friend who watches the drawing while trying to deduced the word from a bank of scrambled letters and spaces showing how many letters are in the word.
Draw Something is a free app offered by OMGPOP and is available for iPhone and Android products. Try it today & let us know your experiences with improving your drawing (or right brain) skills. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Exercise you Right Brain with Draw Something
Dr. Darrin Thomas offers the technological background that allows the cognitive reserve program to be made available online. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, earning his Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage. His Ph.D. in Management Information Systems was earned from the University of Illinois at Chicago. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Founders Profile: Darrin Thomas, Ph.D.
Dr. Jeffrey Farbman has had longstanding interests in both neuroscience and in remembering where he parked his car. This combination prompted him to join forces with other neuroscience professionals to develop the lifestyle management program that The Cognitive Reserve employs to help keep your mind sharp.Board certified in Neurology by The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Jeff maintains an active general neurology practice in the northern suburbs of Chicago. He has a decade and a half of experience in practice, served his residency in Neurology at The University of Chicago and is a graduate of The Rush Medical College in warm and sunny Chicago, Illinois!Prior to attending medical school, Jeff earned a B.S. at Brooklyn College where he was involved in scientific research aimed at understanding the physiology of the vertebrate retina. He continued his scientific endeavors at Northwestern University where he was involved in electrophysiologic studies of the mammalian visual cortex and where he earned his M.S. degree in Neurobiology. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Founders Profile: Jeffrey Farbman, M.D.
Dr. Neil Pliskin is a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Neurology, the Director of the Neurobehavior Program, the Director of the Neuropsychology Service, and the Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine, all at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a board certified neuropsychologist with years of experience directing Neuropsychology and psychology training programs. Dr. Pliskin is involved in educational and clinical practice issues at the national level through his work as Director of Continuing Education for the International Neuropsychological Society and Chair of the Practice Advisory Committee of the American Psychological Association's Division of Clinical Neuropsychology.After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Pliskin went on to earn his Ph.D. in Psychology at the Chicago Medical School. His internship was at Washington D.C.'s Saint Elizabeth's Hospital, residency at the National Institute of Mental Health, and his Postdoctoral Fellowship in Clinical Neuropsychology was completed in 1988 at the University of Oklahoma. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Founders Profile: Neil Pliskin, Ph.D., ABPP-CN
Dr. Sanford Sherman has practiced General Neurology at Northwest Neurology in the Chicago suburbs since 1988, and sees patients with a wide range of neurological conditions including dementia, memory loss and cognitive impairment. He has been treating patients who present with various diseases, but now he has helped to develop a program aimed at lifestyle management and disease prevention. The Cognitive Reserve is a comprehensive program aimed at cognitive preservation and memory enhancement. It will help individuals to maintain their full intellectual potential.Dr. Sherman was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and his Medical Degree from Rush University Medical School. He interned in Internal Medicine at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center and he completed his residency in Neurology and Fellowship in Clinical Neurophysiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He helped develop and is the Physician Director of the award winning stroke program at St. Alexius Medical Center, and serves as a member of the Neurosciences Advisory Board of the Alexian Brothers Health Network. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Founders Profile: Sanford Sherman, M.D.
Dr. Sherrie All is a clinical neuropsychologist at Neurobehavioral Associates and in her own private practice and is the president and CEO of All Brain Fitness. She has specialized experience in cognitive rehabilitation for people with brain injury, psychiatric illness, and mild cognitive impairment and has become an expert in brain fitness and healthy aging. She is engaged in research examining cognitive deficits and their rehabilitation in psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia as well as cognitive enhancement to reduce the risk or delay the onset of dementia.Dr. All became interested in the brain fitness field while working with people with dementia. It became very clear to her that the best way to address the projected rise of dementia as America ages is through prevention and building cognitive reserve. She is a pioneer in the brain fitness field and has developed techniques for lifestyle coaching for better brain health, starting her own company for brain fitness coaching in 2010.Dr. All is a product of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where she completed her Bachelors. Her Masters and Ph.D. in Psychology were earned from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, IL. Dr. All's internship and post-doctoral fellowship were completed at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey in Piscataway, New Jersey.Dr. All lives in the eclectic neighborhood of Rogers Park in Chicago with her husband, two young daughters and the family dog Jeff. Her hobbies include yoga, walking along the lakefront, cooking, reading, traveling, exploring cities, entertaining, and socializing with friends, family and neighbors. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Founders Profile: Sherrie All, Ph.D.
Is it true that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? Perhaps or perhaps not, but it is now known that always working and playing in the same location without the ability to experience different cultures and ways of thought that travel affords certainly makes Jack an inflexible thinker. Studies conducted by behavioral scientists (a group whose principal objective in life is to torment undergraduates) have shown that greater creativity in problem solving is exhibited by those who have experienced life in foreign cultures. In one series of experiments conducted at Indiana University, the mere mention of a location distant from campus served to make undergraduate subjects tasked with listing means of conveyance think more broadly, creatively and inclusively.In studies conducted by members of the faculties of Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management the European based international business school INSEAD, the ability to solve problems creatively was highly correlated with having lived abroad.Why should this be so? What does travel have to do with creative thinking? The answer appears to have to do with the act of having negotiated life in another culture. Those who have traveled and lived abroad and have experienced different cultures appear to exhibit greater degrees of cognitive flexibility than those who have not because those who have encountered similar human behaviors under starkly different cultural circumstances. This appears to afford and enhance the open mindedness needed to see that a single idea or action can have different meanings and consequences depending upon cultural context. Similarly, similar or even identical objects can have different uses in different cultural settings.The development of mental flexibility is a key component of the development of cognitive reserve. By traveling, experiencing new cultures, new mindsets and new uses for old objects and ideas, new mental associations are formed, new cognitive (and perhaps even new neuronal) connections are established and the mental armamentarium against which one may draw in the battle to stay off cognitive decline becomes enhanced and enriched.
View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Go on that Vacation!!
Greater education was one of the first things to be linked to higher cognitive reserve. In some of the earliest studies looking at the differences between people who developed the signs of Alzheimer's disease when they were alive and those who did not despite having Alzheimer's pathology in their brains during autopsy, education was one of the first things to be noted to be different between the two groups. It is thought that education is protective because it actively helps you build cognitive reserve because it provides you an incredibly structured setting for learning new things. In our society we often refer to education as an "investment." What people typically mean is that it is an investment in ones future career. But knowing what we know now about cognitive reserve, we can start to think of education as an investment in our cognitive reserve! This could serve as an extra motivator to go back and get that higher degree to advance your career if you're somewhat of younger person. If you are a little less young and not as interested in advancing or changing careers, you can still build cognitive reserve by taking classes or pursuing a new degree. Community colleges picked up on this idea years ago, and now most community colleges offer lifelong learning programs with some programs specifically targeting the 50+ crowd to meet the increasing demand for brain stimulation throughout the lifespan. Are you investing in your cognitive reserve by going back to school? Tell us what you've been up to.
View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Going Back to School - A Wise Investment
We all know that physical exercise is good for our bodies and our cardiovascular health, so you may be thinking that it's obvious that physical exercise is good for the brain. You are probably also thinking bout all of the ways that regular physical exercise can protect your existing cognitive reserve investments from the deductions caused by cardiovascular disease. But did you know that physical exercise can help you build up your cognitive reserve?In fact, physical exercise may be one of the most effective ways to directly build reserve. Of all the ways that we can build our cognitive reserve, physical exercise has some of the strongest research backing it. Studies have shown that exercise increases the production of new brain cells. Since new brain cells are primarily produced in the part of the brain that is responsible for helping us form new memories (the hippocampus and surrounding structures), physical exercise seems to produce immediate in learning, in addition to the long-term effects of having more brain cells. Studies in rats have shown that when rats are allowed to exercise on a running wheel before learning how to navigate a new maze, they learn the maze significantly faster. You don't have to start running marathons or become a body builder to reap the brain benefits of physical exercise. A recent study of older women showed that walking as little as 6-9 miles per week decreased the rate of dementia. That's only three, 2-3-mile walks per week, which is about an hour out of your day or three hours a week. If you're following the exercises laid out in this program, then you are already benefitting your brain. If you've been procrastinating adding that part of the program to your daily routine, then why not start today!? As you just learned, not only will you be protecting the brain investments you've already made over your life, but you will also be making new investments! View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Grow More Brain Cells with Exercise
The importance of a healthy heart and blood vessels to brain function can't be overstated. The brain is supplied with oxygen and nutrients by the blood that flows through the arteries that arise from the heart. Unlike the cells in say your arm that can survive when deprived of blood flow for a short period of time, brain cells begin to die very quickly without a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients from the blood. When the heart and blood vessels are no longer able to do their jobs adequately and supply blood to the brain, the brain no longer functions properly. A reduction in the ability of the heart to pump blood around the body, as may occur after one or more heart attacks or in congestive heart failure, may result in an insufficient quantity of blood being delivered to the brain. As a result, the brain becomes deprived of oxygen and nutrients, and a deduction in the brain's reserve occurs. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Heart Disease
The arteries that supply the brain with blood branch into smaller and smaller vessels forming a network that is sometimes referred to as the arterial tree. Because these blood vessels are so tiny, they are particularly susceptible to injury caused by the effects of hypertension (high blood pressure). This occurs when the blood coursing through the vessels is pumped with too much pressure. Exposure to that very high pressure damages the delicate small branches at the very ends of the arterial tree. The body attempts to heal that damage, and that results in scarring of the arteries. (This is also known as arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.) The damage from high pressure can cause little tiny strokes to occur, which is referred to white matter disease that slowly reduces reserve. As you have been learning, when the cognitive reserve is depleted below a certain threshold, such as by the accumulation of these little stokes and other "reserve depleters," dementia can set in. Scarring or hardening also increases the risk of bigger strokes, that causes permanent brain cell death, and may result in the permanent loss of one or more brain functions. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: High Blood Pressure
High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia) can lower reserve because cholesterol deposits that build up inside the arteries can narrow, and eventually block, these blood vessels, restricting blood flow to the brain. The blood flowing through the arteries when they are full of plaque is similar to water flowing through a partially clogged drain. This means that the brain is not getting all of the blood flow that it requires to function properly causing short-term interruptions in functioning and depleting reserve over time. Plaque in the arteries resulting from high cholesterol also increases the risk of strokes. As you learned in the reading on high blood pressure, the tiny branches of the arterial tree that extend deep inside our brains are much smaller than the arteries in other parts of our bodies. If a piece of plaque lining the inside of a larger artery, say closer to the heart, breaks off, it does not cause much of a problem floating around in the larger tube or larger artery. But if this piece of plaque makes it up to the small capillaries of the brain, it can cause an "ischimic" stoke, because it blocks the artery and doesn't allow any fresh blood from reaching the brain cells beyond that point. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: High Cholesterol
The theory of cognitive reserve was developed about 10 years ago after studying the brains of older people after they died and by studying people with brain injuries.Over the years, brain researchers have come to understand that no two brains are alike. Two people can experience the very same injury or stroke and have very different reactions. It turns out that the main thing that distinguishes these people from one another is the amount of brain tissue that is "left over" after the injury and how that tissue is used. If you have more brainpower in reserve, depletions are less costly.In one important study, the brains of two groups of older people were examined. The people in one group showed the clinical symptoms of Alzheimer's disease when they were alive, and people in the other group had no signs of dementia. When the volunteers' brains were examined during autopsy, scientists discovered that there was no difference in the amount of Alzheimer's pathology (beta-amaloyd plaques and neurofibulary tangles) between the two groups. This meant that there were people in the study who "had Alzheimer's in their brain" but never showed signs of the disease! So in essence, the amount of Alzheimer's pathology that had grown had little impact on how the people functioned when they were alive.Scientists were puzzled by this and wondered if there might be something different about the people in the two groups. When scientists went back and studied the lifestyles of the people in the two groups, they found that the people who did not have memory loss differed in several key lifestyle areas. They were more educated, had more social relationships, and were more mentally active throughout their lives. This was important because it showed that malleable lifestyle patterns that nearly anyone can adopt played an important role in who lost independence and who did not. What scientists have since concluded is that the more cognitive reserve you can build up, the more you can resist dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: How Do We Know That We Have A Cognitive Reserve?
While fats are present in lower quantities in the Mediterranean diet, they represent a big part of the standard American diet. The fat content of the typical American diet has been noted to range between 37% and 40% of calories. Dietary fats are described as being saturated or unsaturated, depending on the chemical structures of the fats. If no double bonds are present in the fatty acid chain that makes up the fat, it is said to be saturated. (The fat is actually saturated with hydrogen.) If one or more double bonds are present, the fat is said to monounsaturated or unsaturated. The term polyunsaturated is also used to indicate that multiple double bonds are present. The important part of all this chemistry is that a diet high in saturated fats increases the risk of atherosclerosis (the build up of plaque in the arteries), which can limit blood flow to the brain and cause mini small strokes that lower reserve over time. A diet rich in unsaturated fats, such as the Mediterranean diet, does not appear to promote atherosclerosis and probably helps to enhance cognitive reserve by reducing the degree of cerebral atherosclerosis caused by our diets. Saturated fat also increases cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol plays a role not only in promoting plaque formation in the arteries, but may also play a direct role in the development of the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer's disease and, as you learned in week one, work to lower reserve.The fat that is consumed in the Mediterranean Diet (through fish and olive oil) has other brain benefits besides being unsaturated. These fats also contain essential fatty acids (such as Omega 3) that have been linked to good heart and brain health. Not only do essential fatty acids promote cardiovascular health and thereby good brain health, but they also support the structure of brain cells and likely protect them by helping the brain cells and the connections they make with each other stay flexible and healthy.Finally, the Mediterranean Diet also helps maintain reserve by being a low-glycemic diet. Refined sugars and starches are not generally consumed; rather, sweet tastes come in the form of fresh and dried fruits. Whole fruits are higher in fiber than refined sugars, and fiber works to slows the absorption of sugar into the blood. This keeps blood sugar levels from spiking and reduces the body's demand for insulin secretion to counteract the sugar spikes. Steady blood sugar helps the brain because high blood sugar levels in essence starve the brain of nutrients. As you learned before, the brain needs a constant supply of fresh blood in order for cells to stay alive. Much of the blood delivered to the brain is through very small capillaries at the end of the branches of the arterial tree. High blood sugar levels cause the red blood cells to swell, and these cells can grow to be too big to fit into the tiny ends of capillaries, temporarily depriving those brain cells of essential oxygen and nutrients from the blood. Over time the brain cells in the regions fed by these tiny capillaries will die from this starvation of nutrients, thereby lowering reserve. Recent science has also shown a possible link between insulin secretion and the development of the plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimer's disease, so this is yet another reason to work toward avoiding blood sugar spikes as less insulin will be secreted.As you can see, what we eat has a profound effect on the function of our brains and the blood supply keeping them alive. We can build and maintaining our reserve by eating a brain healthy diet, and we have provided such a diet for you in the Cognitive Reserve program. By starting this program and sticking with the Mediterranean Diet we provide, you are on your way to building a larger reserve and lowering your risk for cognitive and functional declines as you continue to age. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: How the Mediterranean Diet helps Build Cognitive Reserve: Fats
Based on research from around the world, brain health experts now know the key lifestyle patterns that promote reserve. This means that you can have a lifestyle that is similar to the people in the research studies who never developed the clinical features of Alzheimer's disease even when Alzheimer's pathology was growing in their brains.Here are some of the top ways to build and maintain reserve.Mental Stimulation: Keeping your brain active is the foundation of the concept of use it or lose it. The more you learn throughout your life, the more connections you grow. Then more has to be lost before developing dementia. , Physical Exercise: Not only does exercising your body protect you from reserve depleters such as cardiovascular disease, but physical exercise also helps you grow new brain cells and increases the production of chemicals that boost reserve. Stress Management: Chronic stress has the opposite effect of exercise on the brain. High levels of stress hormones kill brain cells and prevent new ones from growing, so implementing a routine of recovery and relaxation is essential. Brain Healthy Diet: A big reason you joined TheCognitiveReserve.com was probably to start eating a brain healthy diet. Research from all over the world has taught us that there are certain foods that promote brain health and other foods that are unhealthy. We will continue to teach you what these foods are and support you in changing your diet!, Positive Relationships: One of the first things researchers learned about people with high reserve was that they tend to have many more social connections than people with low reserve. The quality of those relationships also matters, so cherish your supportive friends and spend more time with people who build you up. Maintaining Your Physical Health: Common medical conditions add extra wear and tear to your brain and lower reserve. That's why it is important to follow general health guidelines and work closely with your doctor to treat medical conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: How to Build and Maintain Cognitive Reserve
The brain and the body are very closely connected. Although it is the most complex of the bodily organs, your brain is like the other organs in your body in that its proper functioning depends upon the maintenance of your general health. Health problems in pretty much any other organ system such as the heart, circulatory system, lungs, kidneys, and liver can all compromise the functioning of your brain. To ensure optimal brain function, you must pay careful attention to your overall health.Continue with the next few readings to learn more about how common health conditions work to reduce cognitive reserve. Stick with TheCognitiveReserve.com to continue to maximize your earnings and minimize your losses in your Brain's Retirement Account. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Managing your Physical Health
While meditation is often thought of as a practice limited to Eastern mystics, it is really much more widespread than that. We have all experienced meditative states while participating in some activity that allows us to ignore the passage of time and to focus exclusively on the present. Sports, hobbies, reading and playing with our kids can put us into a meditative state. And while meditation is often thought of as a means of achieving a higher spiritual state, it is also a mechanism for producing states of sustained attention.Are there cognitive benefits to achieving that profoundly attentive state? Recent research suggests that there are. In studies on the effects of meditation on mood and cognition, researchers at The University of North Carolina have demonstrated that mindfulness meditation can not only enhance mood but can also enhance that ability to perform mental tasks that require that several pieces of information be kept in mind simultaneously. That is to say, meditators appear to be better at paying attention to many things at once.Mindfulness meditation is a meditative technique in which the meditator is taught to focus on present bodily sensations or on some external stimulus in an effort to promote sustained attention to the present moment. The sustained attention induced by mindfulness meditation appears to have clear neuropsychological and neurophysiological correlates.In classic studies of experienced meditators, EEG patterns are shown to change during meditation. A shift toward high amplitude alpha activity, an EEG pattern associated with quiet attentiveness and concentration, is seen. With the advent of functional MRI (fMRI) it has become possible to study brain activity more directly. This tool has been employed to examine brain activity in the setting of particular behavioral states and task related conditions. During meditation, activity in the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia appears to become enhanced, while activity in the occipital gyrus and anterior cingulate cortex becomes inhibited. These findings correlate well with the expectation that meditators will be better concentrators, as the basal ganglia function in the facilitation of behaviors and precise movements that are needed for particular tasks and situations while also functioning in the inhibition of other behaviors and movements that are not appropriate for that situation. The anterior cingulated cortex functions in pain perception (a phenomenon that changes dramatically under the influence of meditation) and the prefrontal cortex plays a role in attentiveness, insight, emotionality and in the sharpening of mental attention. Based on these fMRI findings, classical EEG studies of meditators and the daily experience of those who routinely engage in mindfulness meditation, this practice may be employed to enhance mental focus and attention and thereby enhance learning and memory, leading to better and more efficient cognitive functioning. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Meditation and Cognition
Often when I talk to people about mental stimulation for increasing their cognitive reserve, they will tell me that they stay active mentally by doing Sudoku puzzles or the crossword. While these are great exercises for your brain, there are a lot of other ways to stimulate your brain that may in fact be more effective. The main thing to remember is that our brains grow when we challenge them, so doing something routine or something that you are already good at doesn't provide your brain with the same opportunity to grow that learning something new does. New learning is one of the most efficient ways of growing your brain because it helps you form new connections between brain cells. Doing your 196,238th Sudoku puzzle, likely doesn't grow any new connections, but learning a new skill does. Learning something new can take many forms and does not have to from formal education (although that helps - see "Going Back to School"). In fact, doing something fun, like starting a new hobby, will help you stay motivated to practice your new skill long enough to get the most benefit. Reading books or novels about something you don't really know much about such as a period of history or politics or science can also help you build reserve. Even the new information that you are learning though these readings counts as something new. So this may be just the excuse you've been looking for to start those ballroom dance classes or learn how to build a web site. What new endeavor have you had sitting on your to-do list that you'd like to start? View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Mental Stimulation: Why Sudoku and Crosswords are not Enough
Lots of things deplete cognitive reserve. Some things we can control, and some things we can't. Some of the most common "depleters" include: tiny, undetectable strokes (what doctors call microvascular changes) that can occur as a result of high blood pressure or plaque in our arteries, brain trauma, such as through a concussion, the plaques and tangles that are associated with Alzheimer's disease, a process called oxidative stress, which is associated with the normal aging process. One goal of this program is to help you maintain cognitive reserve by developing lifestyle patterns that help minimize these types of deductions. For instance, by following our Mediterranean Diet plan and exercising regularly, you improve your cardiovascular health and thus lower your risk of microvascular changes. By staying at a healthy weight and keeping your cholesterol level in the normal range, you can lower your risk for developing the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, most of us do experience deductions from our reserve accounts throughout our lives. This could be caused by an unexpected concussion, a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease, or any of a million other things that can damage our delicate brains. That is why it is also important to compensate for these losses by increasing "contributions" to your cognitive reserve. TheCognitiveReserve.com gives you the tools you need to boost your contributions. For example, by following the Sound Body program and exercising regularly, you can help your brain grow more brain cells! The Clear Mind program will help you stimulate those new brain cells in order to give them jobs so they will stick around. It will also help you stimulate existing brain cells in order to grow new pathways, which increases reserve as well. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Minimizing Losses and Maximizing Contributions
There are strong links between how we feel and how our brains work.
Negative Mood States:
• Result in reduced secretion of energizing and alerting neurochemicals including dopamine
• Interfere with our ability to think flexibly and solve problems, important executive skills that are already taxed heavily by motherhood
• Can trigger a cascade of negative thoughts that both perpetuate the sad mood and distract us from important things going on around us
• Increase production of stress hormones in the brain that reduce the efficiency of new memory formation, slow the growth of new brain cells, and over time kill off brain cells
Positive Mood States on the other hand:
• Expand our problem solving abilities and creativity
• Stimulate our attention
• Promote better overall health, which has a direct effect on our brain health
One way to interrupt a negative mood state is to ask yourself, "What's going through my mind?" What sorts of things are you saying to yourself. Are you spouting criticisms at yourself and thinking about what a terrible person you are? This are examples of negative automatic thoughts.
You can get a good sense of these thoughts if you write them down. On paper the thoughts may seem ridiculous. But if you don't pay attention to them and they remain unexamined, then you have no chance to evaluate them and therefore you will just accept them as true. When we believe these negative thoughts, we feel sad, pessimistic and anxious.
Next time you catch yourself feeling sad or anxious, ask yourself, "What's going through my mind?" Then ask yourself, "How valid is this thought?" "What's the evidence that it's true?" You an also ask yourself, "What advice would I give to a friend who told me she was having this thought?" Or, "What's the worst that could happen, and if it happened, could I handle it?"
These types of evaluations can help you come up with a more balanced way of looking at the situation and generally these more balanced thoughts lead to feelings of relief and a more positive mood.
View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Mood and The Brain
In addition to helping the brain grow new brain cells, physical exercise increases the production of a group of chemicals in the brain called brain growth factors. These growth factors operate like fertilizer for your new, baby brain cells, helping them survive the delicate early phases of their lifecycle as they go from being stem cells to new neurons with specific jobs. Nerve growth factors also help the baby neurons sprout connections so that they get incorporated into networks, otherwise, without forming connections, they don't stick around.One of the most widely studied brain growth factors is called brain derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF for short. Aerobic exercise is currently one of the most effective ways to increase production of BDNF. More recently, strength training, such as living weights, was shown to increase levels of another type of brain growth factor called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Physical Exercise: Fertilizer for New Brain Cells
Yesterday you learned about the benefits of social relationships and productive activities. Today we are going to talk about the quality of those relationships and their impact on our reserve. Like most things in life, social relationships and their impact on cognitive reserve is not entirely straightforward or equal across the board. The quality of your relationships does make a difference in health and longevity. While positive relationships likely help you build reserve, negative relationship can be a source of stress, and, as you learned a few days ago, stress can lower reserve through its taxing effects on our bodies and its toxic effects on our brains. So this is your opportunity to examine the relationships in your life. Are there people in your life who are always complaining, never look on the bright side, or generate a lot of conflict with you? Are there other people in your life who are more positive, who don't judge you, who accept you for who you are and encourage your interests? We recommend that you make an effort to spend more time with those people in your life who build you up and reduce negative interactions. This doesn't mean that you have to start cutting every negative person out of your life, although there may be people with whom you choose that approach. Most relationships can be improved by learning new skills, unless the relationship is abusive without a willingness for the abuser to change. In that case professional help is almost always needed and separation is the best approach. In non-abusive relationships, though, something as simple as taking time to complement the other person or learning the ability to stop and empathize with the other person can improve the quality of the relationship. Often arguments and negative feelings persist or become escalated because we become defensive when the other person makes a request or an observation about ourselves. If we can overcome the impulse to be defensive, we may be able to take in what the other person is requesting and realize that the request is not so unreasonable. We may choose to go along with the request in that case or recommend a compromise while retaining a cool head. It may be very difficult to improve a particular relationship, and if the relationship is important to you, it may be worth getting help from a counselor or therapist. Often greater satisfaction can be gained in just a few short sessions. A counselor who can teach you specific skills for listening and communicating is best. Without going to a counselor you may try these techniques for improving communication and positive feelings.Establish some communication ground-rules. It may sound cheesy but this is a very effective way of improving communication. Simply agreeing that one person cannot speak until the other person is finished (i.e. holding a metaphorical or an actual "football" to remind the two of you whose turn it is) can work wonders. Summarize what the other person has said before stating your own feelings. Make it a point to say positive thing to your loved ones. Research has shown that in child development, children whose parents offer a positive to negative comment ratio of 4/1 are the most emotionally secure. In many ways it takes 4 positives to balance out one negative comment, so making an investment of positive statements can fill up your relationship's "positivity reserve", Make an appointment to discuss complex matters, Take a break in heated conversations, Get a change of scenery. Going on vacation or even out to dinner can change the tone of the conversations in a relationship. No matter what you choose, you deserve to be around positive people. Take a couple of minutes to examine your relationships and make a list of people you want to spend more time with and relationships you want to work on. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Positive Relationships
One of the more difficult parts of any exercise plan is sticking to it. There's always an endless variety of reasons not to exercise: dinner needs to be cooked, dishes await being washed, or my favorite excuse as of late: the Olympics are on. It doesn't matter that I don't care for sports, or the thick irony of watching Olympians compete when I should be exercising myself -- I just don't want to exercise. Sites like TheCognitiveReserve.com aim to make exercising easier by providing structure and suggested exercises. If you need an extra push, it can help to schedule exercise times, and have family or friends join you. If schedules or distance don't allow for easy pairing with friends, look into the Fitbit. This little device is basically a pedometer that connects to facebook, allowing you and your friends to see each other's daily steps, stairs taken, and miles traversed. This social exercise will have you measuring your activity as compared to your friends, and hopefully stepping up your activity lest you fall behind.I purchased a Fitbit at the start of summer, and have found it remarkably motivating. You can see my activity here, which I share with you and a couple friends. Most notable are two friends from my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. While the average American walks about 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day, these two friends easily double that, promptly making me feel (and look) like a slouch. In response, I found myself walking the dog for longer stretches, and jumping back into my exercise routine with renewed vigor. You can decide how much information you want to record and share, including the ability to log additional exercises and meals. All logged information is private by default, a smart move prompted by the accidental reveal of their user's sexual liaisons. Too bad Google didn't exist in the age of Masters and Johnson, as it would have saved them quite a bit of time!Regardless of how much you share, a little social support can be the key to successfully sticking to your exercise routine, and overcoming all the excuses. That said, dinner still needs to be made, but at least you'll be rewarded by all the steps needed to cook up a meal! Want to learn more? Read a full review of the Fitbit here. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Putting the Fit in Fitbit!
As you learned the other day, prolonged stress can lower your cognitive reserve both through the toxic effect of stress hormones such as cortisol and by putting a strain on your cardiovascular system. Today we are going to focus on ways to lower the effects of stress on the brain and thereby protect the valuable cognitive reserve that you have been working so hard to build up.One of the most powerful abilities of the human brain is its ability to control our bodily functions. We discussed yesterday how our thoughts can trigger a stress response and raise our blood pressure and trigger chemical releases. Scientists have also discovered that the opposite is also true. We also have the ability to lower our blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and the release of stress chemicals through our thoughts and behaviors. Volumes have been written on how to manage and reduce stress, and each person's stress management will be different. However, here are a few general techniques that may be helpful. If you are having a hard time implementing these techniques, however, or if your stress level is particularly high, you may consider talking with a therapist or counselor who can guide you through developing stress management techniques that are more suited to your unique circumstance.Exercise: The endorphins released in exercise help us feel happier and can eliminate many of our worries just by providing distraction or a better sense of well-being. Taking a short walk to "clear your head" is a powerful way of lowering your stress level. A moderately vigorous workout also triggers the body to shut down the fight or flight response (SNS) for a while and activate the PNS for recovery, thereby giving a break from stress hormones. Self-care: Routine self-care is another important way of reducing stress. This can come in many forms such as reading a pleasurable book, taking a hot bath, drinking a cup of hot tea and sitting quietly, etc. All of these activities activate the PNS and shut down the SNS. Other ways of efficiently engaging the PNS is through regular massage. Fully body massages are great, but even a simple pedicure can provide benefits. Relaxed Breathing: When we are anxious we tend to take rapid, shallow breaths. We may think that taking a deep breath will calm us down, but researchers have fond that deep breaths can trigger hyperventilation, which does not have a calming effect and in fact causes anxious feelings. In order to calm down, you should breathe more slowly and take normal breaths but exhale slowly and say the word CALM or RELAX, or any word that you feel is soothing, to yourself very slowly. It is the exhalation that is associated with relaxation. For centuries cultures have developed techniques for achieving relaxed breathing and calm states through meditation, yoga, and prayer. Managing our Thoughts: Take a look at your thoughts and see if there are ones that are causing you anxiety or making you sad. Do you find yourself brooding about things you can't change? Take some time to try getting some perspective on your negative thoughts and replace them with a more balanced way of thinking. Is it really the case that if you don't finish that third load of laundry something catastrophic is going to happen? Adjusting how we think can dramatically change our mood. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Reducing the Impact of Stress on the Brain
In the first research studies on Cognitive Reserve, when it was discovered that there were people who had large amounts of Alzheimer's disease pathology (plaques and tangles) in their brains but had never shown the clinical symptoms of Alzheimer's such as memory decline, one of the main traits that distinguished these people from the other group, the people who had developed Alzheimer's symptoms when they were alive, was that the people with higher reserve had more social relationships. In one study the researchers found that each additional social tie that a person had (such as belonging to a group, living with others, being married, etc.) reduced the risk for dementia by 16% and each productive activity that a person had (such as helping others with daily tasks, volunteering, or paid work) lowered the risk for dementia by over 70%. How is it that social relationships can help preserve our brain function? Scientists are not entirely sure about the exact reasons yet, but here are a few to consider. Socializing exercises vast regions of your brain. Think for a moment of all of the brain skills that we use to do something as simple as carry on a conversation. We use our visual cortex to look at the person we are speaking with and perceive their facial expressions and body movements, which are actually translated by another part of the brain. We use our auditory cortex to hear what they are saying. We use our language centers to decode their speech and make meaning of what is said as well as to put our thoughts into words and then put together the motor movements to say what we want them to hear. We use our attention to focus on what they are saying. We use our memory to remember what they've said. We use a special type of memory called working memory (which comes from an entirely different part of the brain than other types of memory) to keep in mind what we want to say next. We use our frontal lobes to be socially appropriate and to keep ourselves from being distracted by other thoughts and things going on around us, and on and on. And that's just what goes into one simple conversation. Think about what is needed to maintain a relationship. We utilize our emotions to create bonds with other people and to have empathy. We have to remember facts about the other person to maintain the relationship. We likely plan and organize get-togethers, etc. Of all of the computerized brain exercises that are currently available and their benefits for stimulating specific cognitive skills, I would argue that none of them exercise the whole brain s efficiently as a stimulating relationship. Being with others reduces stress. Many research studies have found that social isolation is itself a stressor and bad for our health. One recent study found that social isolation shortened people's lives by the same number of years as cigarette smoking. Many other studies have found that people who have a support system, such as through faith groups, supportive family, friends, co-workers, etc. have better health outcomes. The mechanism for this is likely that these people do not have to face their problems alone and are less troubled by their emotions because they can share experiences and learn from one another. No matter the mechanism, it appears that an effective and likely enjoyable way to increase cognitive reserve is to make new friends and stay socially engaged through having a role in either another person's life or through an organization or group. What are some ways that you can increase your social circle and thereby start investing in this aspect of your cognitive reserve? View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Socialization
In today's world, we are quite busy and attempt to do more and more in less and less time. We multi-task, eliminate the inessential, skip meals and forego sleep in an effort to accomplish our assigned tasks and achieve our goals with ever increasing degrees of efficiency. Lack of sleep, through a variety of effects on cognition, serves to compromise our efficiency, rather than to enhance it.Although generally thought of as a mere period of physical and mental inactivity, sleep is actually a highly complex and carefully orchestrated collection of states of brain and bodily activities. Called stages, each sleep associated brain state is characterized by a distinct EEG (brain wave) pattern and by different physiologic features. The first three stages of sleep are the non-REM stages, in which there is progressive slowing of the EEG frequencies. REM is the stage in which the EEG pattern is most similar to that of the waking state, but in which there is a complete loss of muscle tone and in which rapid, side to side oscillatory eye movements are seen. Dreaming occurs during REM sleep, and there are four REM periods per night that become progressively longer in duration as the night goes on. Sleep appears to function in the consolidation of memories. Consequently, getting too little sleep could be expected to (and does) impair the encoding of memories. REM sleep is associated with the consolidation of spatial and procedural memories. (These memories allow for the recall of the manner in which things are arranged in space as well as the manner in which tasks are performed.) The deeper stages of non-REM sleep (characterized by slower frequency EEG rhythms) are associated with declarative memory. (Two subsets of declarative memory exist. One, called episodic memory, deals with the encoding of specific life experiences. The other, known as semantic memory, encodes specific facts.) When sleep is interrupted, or the ability to achieve specific stages of sleep becomes impaired, memory consolidation ceases to function normally.Sleep deprivation has indirect effects on cognition in addition to direct effects on memory consolidation. Daytime sleepiness is an inevitable consequence of sleep deprivation, and results in impaired vigilance and alertness. When sleepy, we are less able to pay attention to the world around us, to others and even to our own thoughts. This compromises our abilities to think, to plan and to remember in quite a striking, even if indirect, manner. General health is also strongly related to experiencing normal sleep patterns, and general health has an undeniable influence on brain function. Hypertension, stroke, obesity and congestive heart failure are all more common in those individuals who suffer from sleep deprivation. These conditions impair physical brain function through metabolic and vascular effects, ultimately resulting in lower cognitive reserve and over time impaired cognitive function.
View more Brain Health and Development Readings: The Benefits of Adequate Sleep
If the ability to perform a mentally demanding task is considered a sign of intellectual power, the ability to switch back and forth between two complex and related mental activities must surely be considered a sign of intellectual prowess. In fact, the efficiency with which one is able to switch mental "sets" is felt by neuroscientists to reflect the efficiency of one's cognitive executive control system. The more efficient one's executive control system is, the better one is at multitasking. So, if you want to be a better multitasker, you'll have to enhance your cognitive executive control system. An excellent way to do that, it turns out, is to learn (and use) another language.The connection between bilingualism and efficient multitasking may not be immediately obvious, but has been demonstrated in scientific studies. Ellen Bialystock and her colleagues were able to show that individuals who were able to speak more than one language were better able to concentrate and to deal with distractions than were people capable of speaking only one language. The better executive functioning of bilinguals, as compared to monolinguals, also appears to resist aging. In a study of normally aging bilingual and monolingual people, bilingual individuals performed better on executive control tasks than did monolinguals. This suggests that being able to speak more than one language helps to protect against the loss of this important cognitive capacity.Furthermore, language ability may help to enhance cognitive reserve in other ways as well. In a 2010 study published in The American Academy of Neurology's journal Neurology, bilingual individuals were found to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease five years later than their occupationally and cognitively matched counterparts. In fact, this protective effect of knowing two or more languages is present even in those with limited formal education.So there you have it! Acquiring fluency in more than one language helps to enhance executive control, allowing for more rapid and efficient switching of attention between mental tasks, to promote successful multitasking and to enhance cognitive reserve thereby potentially delaying the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Start your language studies today, and you may make your next overseas trip much more fun, in addition to experiencing great cognitive benefits. Bon chance!! View more Brain Health and Development Readings: The Cognitive Benefits of Language Learning
If you're like me, and most other living and breathing humans, you've probably read a fair amount of the recommendations on this site and said to yourself, "But I don't want to [fill in the blank]." "I don't want to exercise more." "I don't want to eat dried fruit instead of cake." "I don't want to reduce my multi-tasking." "I don't want to start a relaxation practice." Or, if you weren't feeling quite so defiant, you may have said to yourself, "Oh I'll start meditating when I have more time." "I'll try those memory games after the holidays." And so on. Well this little twinge of resistance, no matter how subtle, can often bring our efforts to live a brain-healthier lifestyle to a screeching halt! Scientists have been studying the phenomenon of change for decades now, and one concept that has taken a very deep hold in psychology and many other professions, probably because it's just pretty darn accurate, is a model that very honestly addresses the "stages of change" that people naturally go through. The technical name is the "Trans-theoretical Model," but it actually has nothing to do with trans-fats. Developed by Dr.'s Prochaska and DiClemente, this model outlines six natural stages of change:Precontemplation: no desire to change, Contemplation: thinking about changing, Preparation: getting ready to change, Action: changing, Maintenance: keeping the new lifestyle change going, Relapse: those natural slips that most of us have, Termination: not really needing to focus on the change because it is a new, natural habit. As with most models of this sort, movement in a straight line through the stages is rarely typical. More often people shift between stages, even moment by moment. As Martha Beck, Ph.D. describes in her book The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, many people will look at this list of steps and assume they are in Stages 3-5, but then they will often struggle to make or maintain the change because they do not honestly acknowledge that their mind is frequently bouncing back to Stages 1 & 2. Dr. Beck offers some very powerful and effective exercises for wrapping your head around the things in your head keeping at these early stages of change. For example, one exercise has you meditate on mantras aimed at helping you become more compassionate with yourself in order to help you work with your body to change instead of being in a constant willpower battle. The book is focused on weight loss, but the techniques and exercises can be applied to any unhealthy habit. But let's face it, for so many of us living an active lifestyle, eating nutritious food and maintaining a healthy weight are some of the biggest challenges to building and maintaining our cognitive reserve. Dr. Beck's The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace can help you modify your mind (literally remold your brain through new learning) so that it works in a way that will help you more effortlessly build and maintain Your Brain's 401k. Check it out! View more Brain Health and Development Readings: The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace
David Rock, author of "Your Brain at Work" and executive director of the NeuroLeadership Institute, and Daniel Siegel, M.D. clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine, prolific author and executive director of the Mindsight Institue, have teamed up to bring us a fantastic visual representation of a healthy way to allocate our brain resources each day. The Healthy Mind Platter (http://www.healthymindplatter.com/), based on the USDA's Choose My Plate program, offers up 7 essential daily mental activities:Focus Time: When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, taking on challenges that make deep connections in the brain. Play Time: When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, which helps make new connections in the brain. Connecting Time: When we connect with other people, ideally in person, or take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, richly activating the brain's relational circuitry. Physical Time: When we move our bodies, aerobically if possible, which strengthens the brain in many ways. Time In: When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, helping to better integrate the brain. Down Time: When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, which helps our brain recharge. Sleep Time: When we give the brain the rest it needs to consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day. It's important to consider how we allocate our brain resources. Our brains, just like our muscles, grow stronger when they are worked and then allowed to recover. Much of the brain fitness world has focused heavily on mental stimulation, but restorative activities that allow for brain recovery, like down time and sleep time, are just as important.How will you structure your day to include these 7 areas of brain-healthy time? View more Brain Health and Development Readings: The Healthy Mind Platter
Studies have shown that a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, fish and poultry, fruit, nuts and olive oil appears to be protective against the development of cognitive deficits. Such a dietary pattern is commonly referred to as the Mediterranean diet as it is based on the dietary patterns common in Greece and Southern Italy in the nineteen sixties. The Mediterranean diet was first brought to world attention by Dr. Ancel Keys in the mid-1940's. It wasn't popularized, though, until approximately fifty years later by Harvard University's Dr. Walter Willett. In the Mediterranean diet, about 30% of calories come from fats (as compared to approximately 40% in the typical American diet), and 90% of those fats are said to be unsaturated (or "good fats"). Olive oil, which is consumed every day, is the major source of dietary fat and should be used for cooking and dressings in place of other types of oil or butter. The major source of dietary protein in the Mediterranean diet is from plants instead of from animals. This is helpful because it lowers the amount of saturated fat, which is common in animal fat. Leafy green vegetables, legumes (such as beans, peas and chickpeas), whole grain breads and pastas, unrefined cereals and fresh fruit are heavily represented in the Mediterranean diet and are consumed daily. Animal protein in the form of fish, poultry, cheese, and yogurt are eaten in moderate amounts, while red meats are consumed in only small amounts. Fish, seafood and eggs are to be eaten two to three times per week, poultry once weekly and red meats once or twice per month. Fresh and dried fruits are eaten on a daily basis as desserts and snacks. Low to moderate amounts of red wine are also a feature of this dietary pattern. (Needless to say, alcohol consumption should never be excessive and should be avoided completely in pregnancy and when it would cause other health problems.) If you have not tried out any of the delicious recipes contented in TheCognitiveReserve.com, we encourage you to get cooking! If you have been cooking the recipes, which ones are your favorites? View more Brain Health and Development Readings: The Mediterranean Diet
Learning something new is one of the best ways to invest in your cognitive reserve. One thing to consider when learning something new is the diversification of your cognitive reserve portfolio. Most people label themselves as a particular type of thinker. "I'm an analytical thinker." "I'm creative." "I'm good with words." "I'm right brained." And so on. Often when people identify themselves this way, they are prefacing a comment related to how some other area or style of thinking is somehow out of their reach. While I'm all for people playing to their strengths, when it comes to building a healthy cognitive reserve account, it is important to diversify. So keep this in mind when you are learning something new. Challenge yourself to think outside your box. Doing so will likely get a larger return on your investment, neurologically speaking, because you will be strengthening brain circuits that have not been exercised well over the course of your life. The general consensus among neuroscientists is that learning something new earns a greater return on the investment because it helps to build new pathways, rather than just relying on the old pathways that are already sufficiently strong. To enact this diversification, think outside your box. For instance if you are the type of person who is more logical and analytical, then you would likely get a bigger bang for your buck by starting a hobby that is artistic such as painting or learning to play a musical instrument. If you already are the artistic type, then joining a book club could help you build verbal, literary and analytical skills. You may be thinking to yourself, "doing something so far outside of my strengths will be too hard or too embarrassing," but like they say in gym class, no pain, no gain. What have you been doing, or are planning to do, to diversify your cognitive reserve account? View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Think Outside Your Box - Diversifying Your CR Portfolio
Clearly, general health has a strong influence on brain health and brain function. The combination of hypertension, hyperlipidemia and family history of Alzheimer's disease puts a person at significant risk for the development of Alzheimer's disease later in life. Some factors, like a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease or heart disease, remain out of our control. The good news is that you can lower this risk by keeping high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes under good control through diet, exercise, lifestyle modification and the appropriate use of medications as directed by your physician. By working closely with your doctor and living the brain healthy lifestyle provided by TheCognitiveReserve.com, you are working to keep your brain in top form!If you have not had your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar checked in a while, then it is probably a good time to schedule a visit to your doctor. We also recommend that anyone starting a new exercise program consult with a physician, so this way you will be killing two birds with one stone. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Time for a Check-up!
Welcome to TheCognitiveReserve.com! By joining this program, you have taken an important first step in maintaining and building your cognitive reserve. Having a high cognitive reserve can lower your risk for cognitive and functional decline. The CognitiveReserve.com system consists of three different, but intimately connected, programs: Clear Mind; Healthy Diet; Sound Body. When used together these programs promote cognitive reserve in the one of the most comprehensive ways available. In the Clear Mind program, you will practice exercises specifically designed to stimulate your brain. You will also see articles similar to this one that will teach you important things about building and maintaining cognitive reserve. We place a high priority on teaching you about your brain because this will give you the tools you need to implement reserve-building changes in your lifestyle. Building reserve is about more than just brain games. It is about examining your entire lifestyle and making important changes.The Healthy Diet program is one of the things that makes this program unique. Few brain fitness programs teach you how to modify your diet to protect your brain, and even fewer provide you with specific meal plans that are delicious and easy to implement in your everyday life. The meals that you find here follow the Mediterranean diet, which has been linked to better brain health. We've provided you with a grid to plan your meals for the week, tasty recipes, food guidelines, and a shopping list.The Sound Body program will help you build cognitive reserve in another important way. Research has shown that physical exercise is one of the most effective ways to slow the aging of your brain while also helping you grow new brain cells and new brain connections. Yes we said it! Your adult brain can grow new brain cells! You will learn more about how this happens and ways that you can enhance this process.So be sure to log in every day to build your brain healthy meal plan, to coordinate your physical exercises and to learn about, and stimulate, your brain. The more you use TheCognitiveReserve.com, the more you will unlock new games, new recipes, and important information. Congratulations on taking this first important step in protecting your most valuable resource and promoting your brain-healthy lifestyle! View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Welcome to TheCognitiveReserve.com!
So what is cognitive reserve anyway? You can think of cognitive reserve as your brain's savings or retirement account. The bigger the balance, the more you have to cushion against losses that could really hurt you. By building up a larger cognitive reserve, you are saving your way to a better and more active retirement!Building up your brain's retirement account increases the chances that you will have a better quality of life during your golden years. So the things that motivate you to contribute to your financial retirement account (such as greater independence, better quality of life, more choices, reduced burden on your children, etc.) are also the things that will motivate you to build your cognitive reserve account. When thinking about cognitive reserve, it is important to think about both things that build reserve and things that deplete it. Throughout this program you will learn about things that you can do to increase earnings and reduce losses, starting with the next reading.Remember, the more brain cells and brain pathways you grow throughout your life, the bigger your cognitive reserve account becomes. This means that you will have more reserve left over to help you function day to day should you face any major deductions such as from a stroke or the changes that cause Alzheimer's. Having a large reserve can delay the onset of memory problems and functional declines, leading to greater independence and a better quality of life. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: What is Cognitive Reserve?
When it comes to diet, age, gender, and education impact what you eat in surprising ways. Aggregate results for our memory and lifestyle test indicate:women eat slightly more healthy diets then men, the more education you have, the better you eat. Our research indicates those without high school diplomas have the worst diets, while those with doctoral degrees and professional degrees have the healthiest diets. as people age, they eat better, though it levels off quickly - once you get out of your teen years, diet improves and stays about the same over the years. Take our memory and lifestyle test and find how your memory, diet, and health rate against your peers in just a few minutes.Next up:Who is Healthier - Men or Women?, Who is Smarter - Men or Women?. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Who Eats Better - Teens or Adults?
Our memory and lifestyle test digs into how active people are. We aggregated the results and found:men are more active than women, younger folks are more active, level of education doesn't have any notable impact, at least not according to our measure. Take our memory and lifestyle test and find how your memory, diet, and health rate against your peers in just a few minutes.Next up:Who is Smarter - Men or Women?, Who Eats Better - Teens or Adults?. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Who is Healthier - Men or Women?
It's a loaded question - who's smarter? Men? Women? Those who are older, those with more education? Aggregate results from our memory and lifestyle test indicate:women perform better on our memory test, not surprisingly, the more education you have, the better your memory (one more reason to never stop learning!), age isn't terribly relevant - there are smart teenagers and smart octogenarians. Take our memory and lifestyle test and find how your memory, diet, and health rate against your peers in just a few minutes.Next up:Who Eats Better - Teens or Adults?, Who is Healthier - Men or Women?. View more Brain Health and Development Readings: Who is Smarter - Men or Women?