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Brain Plasticity – The Best News For the Aging Brain of Your Parents

With a new understanding of brain plasticity, the “brain rules” have changed. You’ve been programmed to expect an unending mental decline with your aging parents. You’ve talked to your friends and have seen their struggles with senior parents. You don’t know for sure when the problems will start, but you’re sure they’re coming.The good news is that science has now revealed the facts.Contrary to long-held beliefs, our brain cells and wiring are not “fixed” at a certain age. The human brain continues to generate new brain cells and reassign how existing cells communicate. New learning accelerates this process. Every time our brain has to tackle a new challenge, it allows the new cells to mature and fuse themselves into the brain’s on-going processes. If our brains are not continually challenged, those new cells essentially starve and wither and die. That old adage, “Use it or Lose it” is true.The ResearchThe Society for Neuroscience reports, “Researchers have found at least one clear link between brain plasticity and healthy aging: They know that a rich, stimulating environment can enhance and maintain brain plasticity, even in old age and with AD [Alzheimer's Disease] patients.”Scientists have shown that changes in what we learn show up as physical changes in our brain. Brain connections actually strengthen with new learning and actually weaken from non-use. As your parents age there is ever more reason to urge them to be more engaged and challenged by the surrounding world.Benefits to Aging ParentsBrain plasticity cannot prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease, or even provide a cure. But because of brain plasticity, people can stimulate the brain to develop alternate pathways to compensate for areas of the brain that may be diseased or damaged. Specific scientific therapies have been developed to help people recover from a variety of impaired cognitive functions.What scientists have also shown is that varieties of new and challenging activities, at any age, are good for the development of the brain. New hobbies, new experiences, new explorations all nourish and enrich the brain cells that continue to be generated.The key is that the activities must be rigorous and repeated over time. A good trainer at a gym does not help us get stronger by doing normal daily activities on a routine basis. To get stronger, our muscles have to be increasingly challenged. In some ways, our brains function similar to a muscle. Enhancing brain plasticity amounts to exercising new brain cells so they get stronger and stronger.Encourage your aging parents to keep learning, growing and exploring the world. It will enrich their brains and their life.