Most parents are very aware of the importance of keeping their child's mind stimulated so it will grow and develop. What scientists are discovering more and more is that our adult brains also need stimulation to keep the connections we developed as children strong, and also to grow new ones.
Why is this so important?
a long time it was widely believed that our brains grew and developed
as babies and children and by the time we reached our early adulthood we
had all the brain cells and connections we would ever have. And it is
true that developing those connections well at an early age is vital.
But what scientists have discovered more recently is that we continue to
gain more brain cells well into old age. This is important because it
means we can keep learning our whole lives.
When someone develops a disease such as Alzheimer’s, it affects the connections (or synapses) in their brains. Some of these synapses become damaged or blocked and some will stop working all together. What is amazing about our brain is that it will try to work around these problems and find another way to connect. So it makes sense that you would want as many connections for your brain to try as possible. The more connections we have the more we have to fall back on if some stop working properly.
So how do we get more connections?
good news is we make new connections every time we learn something new.
We need to keep using the brain cells we have to keep the connections we
already have strong, so a daily crossword is great. But what we also
want to do is create some new ones. And we do this by learning something
new: A language, a musical instrument, take up a new hobby, try to
solve a type of puzzle you haven’t seen before.
What about those who already have a dementia diagnosis?
The wonderful thing about the brain is it has billions of connections and some will last longer than others. It’s a matter of looking for connections that are still there and tapping into them. Connections to music are often one of the last to leave a person. Emotional connections and childhood memories are also longer lasting. This is why reminiscing and talking about the past is so important for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Spatial puzzles or creative endeavours may be the link for some. It is a matter of trying different activities to see what works for the individual.
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