About neuroscience and music (mainly classical). Exploring the relationship of music and the brain based on experience of two careers.

July 29, 2013

Take care of your brain; build cognitive reserve

A study from the Rush University Medical Center in the July 23 issue of NEUROLOGY in my mailbox today addresses the question: can we do anything to slow down late-life cognitive decline? 

"The results suggest yes -- read more books, write more, and do activities that keep your brain busy...," according to an accompanying editorial.

The study suggests also that the more of that you do (or have done) at ALL stages of life--even in childhood--builds more 'reserve' that you can draw upon in late life to compensate for the almost inevitable processes -- little strokes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other chronic neurologic diseases of all kind that may affect our brains as we age. The concept of 'cognitive reserve' has been suspected before but this study provides support for it.

I suspect the NYTimes and AARP will find it eventually. The methodology did not determine whether passive watching of films and videos, 'educational' or not, or any of the 'brain exercises' sold by 'experts,' have a similar effect, but I would bet that seriously listening to (as opposed to just hearing) music would, as would intently listening to a scholarly lecture. The effects were small but statistically significant. More research is needed.

Discussing their results the authors point out that in addition:

"Neuroimaging research suggests that cognitive activity can lead to changes in brain structure and function that might enhance cognitive reserve. Thus, occupations (e.g., professional musician,[27] London taxi driver[28]) and leisure activities (e.g., playing Baduk[29]) that challenge particular cognitive functions are associated with differences in the gray and white matter of brain regions that support the cognitive functions. Importantly, longitudinal studies have documented regional increases in gray matter volume and white matter microstructural integrity over temporal intervals ranging from a few hours[30] to several years[11] in persons engaged in diverse cognitive activities, including studying for a test of medical knowledge,[10] apprenticing as a London taxi driver,[11] reading mirrored words,[31] deciphering Morse code,[32] learning novel color names,[30] and performing cognitive exercises.[33–36]"

So you see why I write so much! Or you might conclude I have exhausted my reserve!

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