"Use it or Loose It" .            Dr. Michael Merzenich -Preiminent Brain Scientist

 

As a youngster my mother used the expression: "Have you lost your mind?" whenever I did something outrageous. Unfortunately I heard that expression quite often during my youth. However, I have seen what has been a rhetorical expression become a reality at memory care facilities.  Today over six million people in the United States suffer from Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.  This number is expected to dramatically increase as the baby boomers have reached their senior years and people are now living longer.  Memory loss knows no boundries when it comes to occupation, financial status or celebrity.  People such as President Ronald Regan, Glen Campbell, Gene Wilder, and Charlton Heston were a few of the prestigious people who suffered and died from these diseases.  

At the facilities where I play piano I am astonished when I learn the past history of patients.  I have met former doctors, lawyers, business executives, professors, and even a NASA scientist.

Memory loss is one of the most devasting things that can happen to any individual. It affects family and loved ones and can be financially devasting.  At advanced stages of memory loss those affected are often sent to memory care facilities that can cost upwards of $10,000 per month.

At the present time their is no medication to cure Alzheimer's disease nor has a definitive cause been identified.  In the past memory loss was often called senility but today there are several types of dementia:  Alzheimers, disease, Vascular dementia, Dementa with Lewy bodies (DLB), Parkenson's disease, Frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Normal pressure hydrocephalus, Huntington's disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.  Although there are many types there is often overlap between them. Therefore, these diseases are extremely complicated.

What is suspected as a partial cause is our lifestyle choices.  One particularily interesting finding is that coffee may be a very healthy habit in that coffee may be a pathway to turn off inflamation. Being an ex-cop and heavy coffee drinker...maybe there is hope for me.  Moderate exercise - not the "no pain...no gain" type or running an Iron Man is not necessary.  You do not have to join an expensive gym or get a personal trainer. Simply walking at a fast pace for 20-40 minutes several times a week can provide benefit to the brain.  Two other factors that are believed to be effective in preventing memory loss are a healthy diet and maintaining interpersonal relations.

In 2008 while developing an observation program for police officers I had the honor to meet Dr. Michael Merzenich.  If you have access to YouTube I highly recommend you search his name and watch the videos he has made on "Brain Plasticity".   What I learned from Dr. Merzenich was that what was previously known about the brain has significantally changed.  He has proven that the brain continues to develop new neural connections (these are the over one hundred billion cells that make up our brain and store everything we know and every memory).  Dr. Merzenich is convinced that we can continue to grow new neurons by exercising the brain.  When we stop challenging the brain it much like muscle will atrophy therefore we must continue throughout life to exercise our brain with new and different challanges.

This makes great sense to me when I see very successful people who had to be operating in their former occupations at extremely high levels of challenge drop that level to next to nothing when they retire. It reminds me of a time when I tore a tendon and had a cast on my leg for two months.  In that short amount of time my leg atrophied over 2 inches and I had very llittle strength.  Through exercise I was able to bring my leg back to size and strengh.

Dr, Merzenich suggests learning new things like a language, instrument, new sport, hobby or anything that will challange the brain to create new neural connections.  He uses the expression:  "Use it or Loose It' to describe what will happen if we do not.   He has a website: www.brainhq.com . that offers very specific computerized brain exercises.  He has proven with these exercises that a challanged brain can even reverse some of the aging if practiced.  I personally use this program and find it very helpful and challanging.

The program I have developed "My Traces of Love" is also a program that will challange the brain,as well as  help you recognize and remember faces better.  A similar course I developed worked for police officers  increasing their skills to identify missing persons and suspects.  How wonderful would it be if such a skill could help you identify loved ones should memory loss occur? 

I don't know about you, but I would do just about anything to avoid memory loss.  I never want my mother's rhetorical question: "Have you lost your mind?" to become a reality. Curently there is no cure or magic pill to stop these diseases.  Lifestyle is the one thing we all can change to try to prevent these diseases of the brain.  The Traces of Love facial recognition program is one new challange to exercise your brain.  I hope you will afford yourself the opportunity to participate in this interesting and fun program.

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