Everyone knows the importance of keeping their body healthy: websites like Pinterest have sections dedicated to health, workout sensations Shawn T. and Billy Blank are making cardio workouts fun, and even the Food Network have changed their shows to fit a healthier lifestyle. However, brain health doesn’t have nearly the same publicity. Many people forget the importance of keeping their mind healthy. More specifically, Alzheimer’s has affected over 35 million people worldwide in 2009, with that number projected to increase exponentially over the next 40 years.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s lifelong capacity to change and rewire itself in response to the stimulation of learning and experience. Improving neuroplasticity may be the answer to preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s and keeping the brain healthy. Often associated with connections between neurons, neuroplasticity allows the brain to constantly strengthen itself. In fact, it is much like how muscles grow as they are worked out.
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor talks about the power of neuroplasticity in her remarkable TedTalk “Stroke of Insight” where she tells her story of recuperation after a stroke left her without speech.
Alvaro Pascual-Leone‘s experiment at Harvard Medical School is another example of neuroplasticity. The objective was to measure the function of an individual’s cortex. Volunteers were to be tested on the melody they had been practicing for two hours a day, for five consecutive days. Pascual-Leone observed that the motor cortex responsible for finger movement when playing piano had grown. In fact, it was taking over some of the surrounding brain area. What Pascual-Leone observed was synaptogenesis and neurogenesis. Synaptogenesis is the formation of synapses between neurons, while neurogenesis is the ability to create neurons. Clearly, his experiment showed was that the brain could be rewired and “worked out”, much like the body’s muscles.
Do you think improving neuroplasticity and brain health would help the increasing population suffering from Alzheimer’s?