Welcome back, Careblazer. Today I want to talk about neuroplasticity and how how you can use the power of neuroplasticity to improve your loved one’s ability to do tasks, improve their thinking, increase their brain size, and also help lower your chances of developing dementia in the future. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
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Careblazer, Have you heard of the word neuroplasticity before? Basically the neuro stands for brain and plasticity stands for plastic. So basically it’s the brain's ability to be plastic, in other words, adaptable and malleable.
Our brains have an amazing ability to adapt and rebuild after injury. This is why it’s so important for people after a stroke to go through rehabilitation because your brain is more receptive to rebuilding and rewiring the brain to be able to learn how to walk and talk again. But the brain's ability to improve exists outside of just those who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It exists for you, for me, and for your loved one.
The ability for the brain to rebuild and improve has been proven through imaging studies, brain stimulation studies and through functional assessments such as their ability to perform better on cognitive tasks and functional/physical tasks.
One of the best ways to maintain and improve cognitive functioning is through physical exercise. Individuals who get more consistent and regular physical exercise in their lives tend to have lower chances of dementia and show greater improvement in overall brain functioning.
There is even evidence that regular physical exercise can increase the size of certain areas of the brain such as the hippocampal area, which is important for memory and significantly affected in Alzheimer’s disease. After age 50, most people show a decline in their hippocampus at a rate of 1 - 2 % per year- and that’s for people without dementia. So anything that can help preserve and grow that area would be extremely important.
In a 2011 study, 120 older adults were put into 2 groups. One group was a walking group that did moderate intensity walking for 30-45 mins per day/ 3 days week. The other group was a stretching and toning group that worked out for the same amout of time as the walking group.
MRI brain scans were done before the study, after 6 months and after 1 year. All of the participants showed the same hippocampus volume at the beginning of the study. So there was no major difference in hippocampus size between the groups at the beginning of the study. BUT, at the 1 year mark, the stretching group showed about a 1.5% decline in the size of the hippocampus and the walking groups showed about a 2% increase in the size of the hippocampus. So even in late life, the brain still has the ability to grow and improve, even in an area highly impacted by Alzheimer's disease.
There was also a 2020 study that showed people with mild to moderate alzheimer’s disease who exercised were able to maintain their functional abilities better and longer than those who did not exercise regularly.
So regardless of the age or cognitive condition you and your loved one may be in, I hope this video inspires you to start incorporating regular exercise in your routine and be sure to talk to your medical provider and your loved one’s medical provider if you have questions about what is safe and possible.