August 12, 2014

Boosting Your Brain's Resiliency - Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman

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Highlights from our Alzheimer's Talks with Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman

Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman's research at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas explores how to improve brain health and increase resilience against cognitive decline. Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

1. We've dramatically increased the human lifespan, but nothing has been done to extend our brainspan. Cognitive decline isn't an inevitable consequence of old age.

2. There are things we can all do today to help reduce the risk of cognitive decline as we age. However, evidence suggests that not all types of mental activities are equal.

3. We found that strategy-based cognitive training, which uses the frontal lobe (the area of the brain responsible for reasoning, planning, and decision-making), improved brain activity not only during the training, but at rest as well.

4. Healthy adults begin to lose about 1.5% of their brain blood flow every decade starting in their 20s. In a trial of healthy 50-75 year olds who were taught how to use high-level thinking strategies, they saw an 8-12% increase in blood flow from pre- to post-training, an increase in the speed of communication in the brain by 30%, and an increase of 15% in the white matter. This shows that through brain exercises, we can regain and build resilience as we age.

5. Individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment, after 8 hours of strategic memory advanced reasoning training over a one-month period, showed significant improvement across a spectrum of cognitive performance measures including strategic attention and immediate and delayed memory when tested two weeks after completion of training. 

6. Even without a formal training program, steps taken before old age can improve brain health and help slow the progression of dementia.

7. Avoiding multitasking, thinking deeply about topics of interest to you such as books and movies, and taking time to rest your brain are all healthy brain habits that can improve cognitive function.

Dr. Chapman's findings suggest that cognitive training and healthy brain habits have great potential for building brain resilience.

You can read more about these ideas in her book, Make Your Brain Smarter.

We're grateful to Dr. Chapman for taking the time to tell us about her research. You won't want to miss her findings, so make sure you take the time to listen to the playback or read the transcript.

This call was made possible by the generous support of Rita Hortenstine.