What is ‘cognitive reserve’?

What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia

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Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities can help build your resilience to cognitive decline.
Gene Wilburn/Flickr, CC BY

Michael Ridding, University of Adelaide

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in areas of cognitive function – such as memory, reasoning and verbal ability. We also have a greater risk of dementia, which is what we call cognitive decline that interferes with daily life. The trajectory of this cognitive decline can vary considerably from one person to the next.

Despite these varying trajectories, one thing is for sure: even cognitively normal people experience pathological changes in their brain, including degeneration and atrophy, as they age. By the time a person reaches the age of 70 to 80, these changes closely resemble those seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Even so, many people are able to function normally in the presence of significant brain damage and pathology. So why do some experience symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia, while others remain sharp of mind?

It comes down to something called cognitive reserve. This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology. To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.

Evidence shows the extent of someone’s cognitive decline doesn’t occur in line with the amount of biological damage in their brain as it ages. Rather, certain life experiences determine someone’s cognitive reserve and, therefore, their ability to avoid dementia or memory loss.

How do we know?

Being educated, having higher levels of social interaction or working in cognitively demanding occupations (managerial or professional roles, for instance) increases resilience to cognitive decline and dementia. Many studies have shown this. These studies followed people over a number of years and looked for signs of them developing cognitive decline or dementia in that period.

As we get older we have a greater risk of developing impairments in cognitive function, such as memory.
from shutterstock.com

Cognitive reserve is traditionally measured and quantified based on self reports of life experience such as education level, occupational complexity and social engagement. While these measures provide an indication of reserve, they’re only of limited use if we want to identify those at risk of cognitive decline. Genetic influences obviously play a part in our brain development and will influence resilience.

Brain plasticity

The fundamental brain mechanisms that underpin cognitive reserve are still unclear.
The brain consists of complex, richly interconnected networks that are responsible for our cognitive ability. These networks have the capacity to change and adapt to task demands or brain damage. And this capacity is essential not only for normal brain function, but also for maintaining cognitive performance in later life.

This adaptation is governed by brain plasticity. This is the brain’s ability to continuously modulate its structure and function throughout life in response to different experiences. So, plasticity and flexibility in brain networks likely contribute in a major way to cognitive reserve and these processes are influenced by both genetic profiles and life experiences.

A major focus of our research is examining how brain connectivity and plasticity relate to reserve and cognitive function. We hope this will help identify a measure of reserve that reliably identifies individuals at risk of cognitive decline.

Strengthening your brain

While there is little we can do about our genetic profile, adapting our lifestyles to include certain types of behaviours offers a significant opportunity to improve our cognitive reserve.

Activities that engage your brain, such as learning a new language and completing crosswords, as well as having high levels of social interaction, increase reserve and can reduce your risk of developing dementia.

Regular physical activity increases cognitive reserve.
Jenny Hill/Unsplash, CC BY

Regular physical activity also improves cognitive function and reduces the risk of dementia. Unfortunately, little evidence is available to suggest what type of physical activity, as well as intensity and amount, is required to best increase reserve and protect against cognitive impairment.

There is also mounting evidence that being sedentary for long periods of the day is bad for health. This might even undo any benefits gained from periods of physical activity. So, it is important to understand how the composition of physical activity across the day impacts brain health and reserve, and this is an aim of our work.

The ConversationOur ongoing studies should contribute to the development of evidence-based guidelines that provide clear advice on physical activity patterns for optimising brain health and resilience.

Michael Ridding, Professor, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Meditation & the impact on your brain

Meditation was a weekly affair for me growing up. Learning Hapkido at the age of 8, we would have meditation sessions at least once a week. Time would stop when I close my eyes and concentrate on serenity and harmony. Attaining a sense of peace within. As a child I took it for granted, it was just something that we had and we did, it was part of our lives. I never really gave it much thought about the impact it had on my mind and body. Now as I look around, more research and evidence have been springing up worldwide on the benefits of meditation. I certainly have my parents to thank for getting me into meditation as a child.

Source of image: http://upw-prod-images.global.ssl.fastly.net/nugget/552e8d42346134001c380100/attachments/Effects-eccbed24a58cdbfd53cb9033e42e13fa.png

This video by scientific America is a great video that focuses on meditation and its impact on the brain. It doesn’t matter if you are 5, 15, 55 or 105, meditation will have positive benefits for your mind, body, and soul. Enjoy the video.

From the youtube page:

Does mindfulness training improve cognitive abilities? A systematic review of neuropsychological findings. [Preview] (Clinical Psychology Review) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21…

Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice (PNAS) http://www.pnas.org/content/101/46/16…

Evidence builds that meditation strengthens the brain, UCLA researchers say (UCLA)
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/…

The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter (PMC)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/artic…

Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation (Neurobiology of Aging)http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/…

Age effects on attentional blink performance in meditation [Preview](Conciousness and Cognition) http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/…

Mental Training Affects Distribution of Limited Brain Resources (PLOS Biology)
http://www.plosbiology.org/article/in…

The American Psychological Association on the benefits of mindfulness
http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08…

A useful, simple to understand video about depression. 

TED-Ed seriously has some pretty epic stuff, this video by Helen Farrell really sums up the difference between feeling depressed and depression. Her video touches on the symptoms, treatments and even tips to help your friend in this simple to understand video.

The video also talks about how open conversations about mental health can erode stigma, and increase the ability of people to ask for help. The video also states that there is research indicating that asking a  person about their suicidal thoughts, in fact, reduces their suicide risk.

A must see especially for us who are in the helping profession.

Source: What is depression? – Helen M. Farrell | TED-Ed

More seniors in Singapore taking own lives – Are we going to take a back seat after reading the news?

The Straits times reported that there’s a 60% increase in seniors in Singapore taking their own lives. I hope Singaporeans are not going to take a back seat after reading the article, instead, I’m hopeful that fellow Singaporeans will be saying how can we all do our part to help?

We as a community need to work on social inclusion, work on de-stigmatising the negative stereotypes of ageing, mental health and chronic illness.

@DEMENTIACASIA4

We know what we need to do, we know it takes a community effort, a top down and bottom up approach. From policy to public education to infrastructure, it takes a community, it takes a kampong, it takes heart.

We saw Singaporeans come together for events like SG50, stand strong during the SARS, we have sailed through one economic crisis after another, standing strong together as a nation, and yet we have let our elders down.

@DEMENTIACASIA2

We’ve taken on NIMBY attitudes, mental illness is still feared and jeered, and we continue to expect others to manage these issues and not prevent them. We all can play a part as Singaporeans to provide support and care, in fact there’s research that indicates that caring can contribute to our own positive well-being (Jagger, Carol et al. 2015).

We need to stop managing issues and work to prevent them, to help fellow older Singaporeans to live well, to live comfortably, with dignity and respect. To feel accepted, included, and be part of the greater community. It’s painful to think that a fellow Singaporean in our day and age feel that they cannot reach out for help, to feel like a burden, to feel like they should not have existed to unburden themselves or others from suffering.

We know healthy ageing is possible (Raposa et al. 2015). We need to open our hearts to love more, to learn more, achieve happiness as one people, one nation, and to pass on positive values to our children.


 

Helplines in Singapore

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS): 1800- 221-4444 (24-hour)

IMH Mobile Crisis Service: 6389-2222 (24-hour)

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019

Seniors Helpline: 1800-555-5555


 

Singapore News -The golden years are losing their lustre for a rising number of the elderly here, with more taking their lives in the later phase of life. There is a nearly 60 per cent jump from figure in 2000; social isolation and physical and mental ill health may be contributing factors. Read more at straitstimes.com.

Source: More seniors in Singapore taking own lives, Singapore News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Reference:

Jagger, Carol et al. (2015). A comparison of health expectancies over two decades in England: results of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study I and II. The Lancet, Published online.

Raposa E.B Laws H.B Ansell E.B (2015). Prosocial Behavior Mitigates the Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life. Clinical Psychological Science. Published before print. 

 

Living Tiny & the Psychological Issues that go with it

In Asia, it is not uncommon for us to be living in tiny living space. From Tokyo, Singapore, China and even Thailand, we’ve all heard, know or even are living in very tiny homes in a very overcrowded city. Cost of living is high, we pay a mint for our homes and we end up living in little shoeboxes in the sky. In a recent article by the Atlantic. The issues of micro apartments were discussed and the question is “how small can our living spaces get before it starts to impact on our physical and psychological health?”

The article talks about how these apartments serve their purpose for young, childless couples who had just started out in the world and wish to live close to the city or work or play. However, for people with children or living in a multigenerational family unit, how do people cope?

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Looking back in Asia, for many in the sandwich generation, working long 10 to 14-hour shifts, caring for children and our parents. The home is suppose to be a safe haven, but when overcrowding occurs some people may feel a sense of dread befalling on them when it is time to go home. Trapped between the tortures of work and the stress of  claustrophobic home.

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The article talks about how living in small apartments can affect the concentration of children and in turn, impact on their studies. The article also talks about the lack of privacy and how it may cause children to become withdrawn. If these housing conditions can have such fundamental impacts on children the implications for older adults living in such apartments with cognitive impairment and dementia must be very challenging.

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However, in Japan, despite the overcrowding and challenging living conditions, strong community initiatives have risen to help support the physical and mental well-being of older adults living in these housing conditions. The Dementia Support Caravan (DSC), founded a decade ago help apartment managers to work with older tenants who may be living with dementia and require support from the community. As the number of people with dementia

The Dementia Support Caravan (DSC), founded a decade ago help apartment managers to work with older tenants who may be living with dementia and require support from the community. As the number of people with dementia continue to grow in Asia and housing conditions continue to remain unchanged; initiatives such as the DSC can help older adults with dementia age in place in their units within the community. It is in hope that more urban regions in Asia may develop similar programmes to support the people with dementia and their family living in the high-rise communities.

 

Source: The Health Risks of Small Apartments – The Atlantic

Source: Hand for dementia – Japan Times

 

Stress from negative beliefs about aging is associated with Alzheimer’s disease

Summary: A new study that emerged from Yale school of public health has indicated that stress from negative beliefs about aging is associated with Alzheimers disease.


 

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From source: Alzheimer’s Disease Photo credit: Dreamstime

Negative Beliefs About Aging Predict Alzheimer’s Disease in Yale-led Study | Yale School of Public Health

Read full article here: Negative Beliefs About Aging Predict Alzheimer’s Disease in Yale-led Study | Yale School of Public Health