We all experience physical degeneration of the brain through ageing. However, the impact of this degeneration varies from person to person. There are genetic factors that come to play but also life experiences and lifestyle.
Professor Michael Ridding of the University of Adelaide argues that “cognitive reserve” explains to some extent how some people can continue to maintain effective cognitive function despite the presence of significant physical brain damage.
He explains the concept of “cognitive reserve” as follows:
This is a concept used to explain a person’s capacity to maintain normal cognitive function in the presence of brain pathology [physical brain degeneration or atrophy]. To put it simply, some people have better cognitive reserve than others.
He goes on to explain that life experiences such as education level, amount of social interaction and occupations that place a lot of demand on our brain and capacity to think (such as managerial or professional roles) all contribute to the development of “cognitive reserve”.
Our brain incorporates multiple pathways and connections that break down over time. However, as indicated in a previous post, brain plasticity enables us to develop new pathways and connections. This is why it is recommended that we learn a new language or do crosswords to help stave off dementia if we are not doing cognitively demanding work.
Mindfulness is another lifestyle factor that can contribute to the capacity to function effectively despite physical brain degeneration. In fact, mindfulness has been shown to restore brain grey matter and reduce the thickness of that part of the brain, the amygdala, that controls our fight/flight response (including panic attacks).
A recent review of the research literature on the relationship between meditation and “grey matter atrophy” [physical brain decline], suggests that meditation results in an increase in “grey matter volume”, offsetting decline in brain function. The effect of meditation is considered to enhance “learning, memory and emotional control, as well as activities like self-awareness and compassion”, thus slowing down the onset of dementia.
As we grow in mindfulness, we can offset the natural decline in our physical brain and ward off, or diminish, the effects of dementia.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
Image sources: Courtesy of geralt on Pixabay