A new study suggests brain plasticity in early dementia may be a cause for memory loss but that it can improve the function of other parts of the brain as well.
Learn more about the research and how you may be able to prevent dementia or delay the progression of the disease.
A study published in the JAMA Psychiatry journal offers a new strategy to slow the loss of memory and prevent dementia – and it revolves around brain plasticity and memory.
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Dementia is thought to begin in the part of the brain responsible for forming memories, the hippocampus. Large amounts of protein can build up, creating amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brain. This buildup causes healthy brain cells to lose function and start to die. However, brain plasticity gives us hope.
Brain plasticity refers to the way the brain is able to change and rebuild. When the brain is able to change how it functions, damage to your working memory can be improved.
The JAMA study suggests that the lower brain plasticity in early dementia may be why there is a loss in working memory as the disease progresses.
The study also suggests that strong plasticity can improve the function of other parts of your brain, which will slow the progression of and/or prevent dementia.
The old adage “use it or lose it” again proves true. The more you use your brain, the stronger it stays.
The following recommendations on how to improve your memory are simple but can have an enormous impact on strengthening your memory and preventing dementia:
Scientists are not sure why close relationships and socialization improve your brain, but the evidence is clear. People who have these relationships and a larger social network have better memory as they age.
One of the hypotheses is that relationships cause you to regularly exercise your brain. You need to listen to the other person, think about how to respond and remember conversations from the past. Social interactions also force your brain to focus. This mental stimulation pulls your brain out of the daydream state.
Tip: Make an effort each day to build up your relationships. Call an old friend. Write a letter. Whatever you do on a regular basis is what your brain will become efficient at doing. Use your brain to improve your relationships and you are less likely to see memory loss.
A study by Torkel Klingberg, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that repeating working memory tasks that got gradually harder resulted in stronger working memory. Klingberg says that “As long as you have working memory problems and you have the ability to train, you can improve your abilities.” Continually challenging and learning helps your brain to form new connections. Klingberg states that interest and motivation also had a strong impact on improving memory.
A 2017 study in The British Journal of Psychiatryfound that training on how to use “chunking” to remember information improved cognitive function in people with the disease. The training involved recalling a more difficult list of numbers each session.
Tip: Make a goal to learn something new about an activity, person or place that you are passionate about. Even if it is as simple as memorizing a new joke or telling a story. Remember to keep trying to add more information to what you already learned.
Your brain can only hold a set amount of information, even with a strong memory. That is where habits, rituals and routines are meant to free up mental energy.
Use a calendar, your notebook or phone to write down reminders so you can focus on learning and remembering new things. Always put your commonly misplaced items in the same place so it becomes automatic. Repeat new information out loud. If something is important to you, focus on that detail. Repeat it and think about it. Research has shown that you are more likely to remember new information if you continue to call it up.
Tip: Decide what is important to you and how you want to remember it. Think of what you felt, heard, saw and smelt at that time. Creating a full picture will make the memory stick. Use all your senses to create a strong memory.
Strengthening your memory not only improves your daily functioning now but can prevent dementia in the years to come.
What is the secret to strengthening your memory? We’d like to hear your suggestions on how to prevent dementia in the comments below.