Content provided by the Health & Wellness Team at GBS Benefits
Did you know your brain is always changing? “Brain plasticity” is how the brain learns new information, grows new connections, and repairs broken connections throughout life. As we age, acquire knowledge, and have more experiences, our brain continues to develop. The following story illustrates one example of how brain plasticity works.
Amputees sometimes experience phantom limb sensations, feeling pain, itching, or other impulses coming from limbs that no longer exist. Neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran worked with patients who had so-called phantom limbs, including Tom, a man who had lost one of his arms.
Ramachandran discovered that if he stroked Tom’s face, Tom felt like his missing fingers were also being touched. Each part of the body is represented by a different region of the somatosensory cortex, and, as it happens, the region for the hand is adjacent to the region for the face. The neuroscientist deduced that a remarkable change had taken place in Tom’s somatosensory cortex.
Ramachandran concluded that because Tom’s cortex was no longer getting input from his missing hand, the region processing sensation from his face had slowly taken over the hand’s territory. So, touching Tom’s face produced sensation in his nonexistent fingers.
This kind of rewiring is an example of neuroplasticity, the adult brain’s ability to change and remold itself. Scientists are finding that the adult brain is far more malleable than they once thought. Our behavior and environment can cause substantial rewiring of the brain or a reorganization of its functions and where they are located. Some believe even our patterns of thinking alone are enough to reshape the brain.
While most of us won’t have a similar experience, our brains will change with age. Mental decline is common, and it’s one of the most feared consequences of aging. But cognitive impairment is not inevitable. There are several things you can do to keep your brain functioning at its best as you grow wiser. Check out the list below for a few tips and tricks to boost brain health!
- 1 minute: Determine and commit to a reasonable bedtime for the day. Some theories state that sleep helps clear abnormal proteins in your brain and consolidates memories, which boosts your overall memory and brain health. Put down your phone and catch some Z’s!
- 5 minutes: Eat a snack made up of brain boosting foods! (Nuts, oranges, blueberries, pumpkin seeds etc.)
- 15 minutes: Reading for fifteen minutes every day can help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Stop the scrolling and read a book, article, or newspaper!
- 30 minutes: Work on a physical jigsaw puzzle for thirty minutes every day. Your brain will thank you for the extra challenge!