Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the brain to change and reorganize itself, allowing us to adapt to changes and experiences we may encounter throughout our life. Neuroplasticity also helps us learn new things and create connections between the regions of the brain as well as help the brain recover from injury and create more effective learning.
Neuroscientists used to think that the brain stopped developing at a young age and that any damage caused to the brain, such as a brain injury or damage caused by a stroke, was permanent. However, as research has continued in this area, scientists have uncovered quite the opposite belief; they have uncovered that the brain is an ever-learning, ever-changing, and ever-growing machine that has the ability to heal and re-wire itself.
The human brain is highly dynamic and while the rate of change in the brain (neuroplasticity) declines as we age, it does not come to a halt; there are still many things you can do to encourage and stimulate neuroplasticity as you age and help improve or slow cognitive decline.
Get Enough Quality Sleep
Sleep is perhaps the most important factor in increasing neuroplasticity and has major effects on the brain through neuroplastic mechanisms. Sleep offers a “soft wipe” of the brain which provides a blank slate for you to lay down new connections through new experiences, memories and skills.
Learn New Things
Learning new things, such as an instrument or a new language, has a profound effect on neuroplasticity. Recent studies show that music practice forces the brain to work in new ways, an important contributor to neuroplasticity, and causes heightened connectivity between brain regions.
Learning new words or languages activates the brain’s visual, auditory and memory processes. Researchers from Penn State found that those who learned a new language underwent several functional and structural changes in their brain, including better integration between networks resulting in more brain flexibility and more efficient learning.
Stress takes a physical and mental toll on your body. Studies show that repeated exposure to stress can result in the atrophy (gradual decrease) of neurons in the hippocampus and hypertrophy (enlargement) of neurons on the amygdala, the area of our brain associated with fear, anger, anxiety and other emotional responses. So the more stressed you are, the greater your chances are of increasing your level of fear, anger and anxiety, which can negatively impact the mechanisms in neuroplasticity. If you can’t reduce the stress in your life, you can at least change the way you respond to it, either through meditation, physical activity or connecting with others.
Another great way to improve neuroplasticity is through regular, low-impact movement. At Prestige Senior Living, we offer Ageless Grace®, an innovative brain and body program based on stimulation of neuroplasticity to support cognitive health. The program uses 21 physical tools and “games” based on the concept of neuroplasticity and is designed to activate the organs and systems of the body. Each tool is based on every day, natural movements that focus on the healthy longevity of the body and mind. People of all ages and abilities, including those with physical disabilities and challenges, can benefit from this class, plus it’s a great way to fit in your recommended 150 minutes of weekly movement.
It is important to understand that cognitive decline or decreased neuroplasticity does not have to be a natural part of your aging process; there are many steps you can take to ensure you experience healthy and active aging. At Prestige, our communities are filled with ways to help our residents stay active and engaged while maintaining independence. Ready to celebrate life at every age? Contact a community near you to learn more about our lifestyle and wellness programming.