Recent research by Michielsen and colleagues has demonstrated that “mirror therapy”, which can be given at home, results in significant, albeit modest, improvement in arm, wrist and hand movement abilities of stroke patients . Mirror therapy is where the arm with impaired movement is placed behind a mirror and the unimpaired arm is reflected in the mirror, giving the appearance to the patient that when the unimpaired arm is moved, the impaired arm is also moving.
Here at Highlight HEALTH, we’re very interested in health and wellness, and the evidence-based preventive steps that can be taken to maintain or preclude disease or injury. This same idea applies to brain health: what preventive measures can be taken to improve or retain mental ability and brainpower?
Cognitive decline as you age appears to be largely due to altered connections among brain cells. Keeping the brain active — reading, writing, working crossword or other puzzles, educational courses, memory exercises — appears to strengthen the brain and may build reserves of brain cells and connections.
Today, it’s common to hear the buzzwords “brain fitness”, “brain training” and/or “neuroplasticity”. There are several products available on the market that can help to maintain and/or rebuild cognitive performance. We reviewed the SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness when it was released in 2009. The guide aims to help people make informed decisions about brain health and cognitive fitness, based on the latest scientific research, and to help navigate new products and confusing myths and claims that are part of the emerging brain fitness market.
SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness book give away
For Brain Awareness Week, SharpBrains has generously provided 5 copies of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness for us to give away. Here’s how it works:
Simply leave a comment below and tell us in 2-3 sentences how brain research can impact health and/or healthcare. Together with Alvaro Fernandez at SharpBrains, we’ll select the 5 best answers and send the authors a copy of The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness.
If you need ideas to help you get started, check out past stories on the brain here at Highlight HEALTH.
Steps to brain fitness
An unhealthy lifestyle can lead to diseases like obesity, diabetes and brain-related health problems, all of which increase the risk of stroke, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These conditions can be managed and even prevented by a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that brain health is promoted by a healthy lifestyle that includes :
- Eating a brain-healthy diet
- Staying mentally active
- Exercising and keeping fit
- Staying socially engaged
- Getting plenty of sleep
- Managing stress
- Protecting your head from trauma
- Controlling risk factors
- Avoiding unhealthy habits
- Understanding your genetic risk
The decision to review your current lifestyle and start making changes for brain health is truly an important choice to make. Following the healthy steps listed above will be effective at any age; however, the earlier you start, the better off you will be. Your goal should be to make a brain-healthy lifestyle a normal part of your everyday.
- Steps to Brain Fitness. Alliance for Aging Research. 2006.
Many people believe that the brain is hardwired in childhood and, as we grow older, cognitive decline is inevitable; we becoming more forgetful, less inclined to seek new experiences and more set in our ways. During the late 1990s, the work of early childhood advocates to focus on learning during the first three years of life had a dramatic impact public opinion and social policy that has lasted almost a decade. Indeed, the importance of learning during a child’s first three years of life was widely accepted as a fact of early neurological development. Unfortunately, advocacy efforts actually countered what neuroscientists were discovering about the brain and its development .
Scientific research in the late 1990s was finding that the adult brain had a much greater capacity for neuroplasticity — the ability to change structure and function in response to thought, learning and experience — than was previously believed [2-3]. Neuroscientists found that the adult brain was capable of growing new dendrites, branched projections from a neuron or nerve cell that conduct electrochemical stimulation received from other neural cells toward the cell body of the neuron, which are often damaged as a result of traumatic head injury or stroke. In adult macaques, researchers found that new neurons were produced in brain regions important for congitive function . The view that aging was equivalent to ubiquitous and rapid cognitive decline thus gave way to a recognition that, for some people, mental acuity continues well into old age. Today, it’s common to hear about “brain fitness” and/or “brain training” products that can help to maintain and/or rebuild cognitive performance. However, in this rapidly evolving field, it’s difficult to discern fact from fiction.