Brain aerobics – can we rewire to improve

There was a time when most of us thought our brains were only capable of limited growth and change. However, the brain is adaptable and built for change which is why our environments have the capability to shape the way we think or behave. This reshaping is specific to our own individual histories leading to differences in the skills and abilities of human kind.

When I gave birth to my daughter seven weeks ago, she was born stupid. She had limited cognitive abilities with very little skills of perception. In fact, there was no indication that she was on board or had any thinking go on. It will be a few months when will she will be able to do something simple such as reach out and grab an object under voluntary control. It will be some months until she can roll over, sit up, crawl, stand and walk before she gets to the magical moments when she actually forms relationships with me and the world. The experience of the perceptual phenomenon involves long lasting and amazing changes to the system that improves one’s ability to respond to the environment. This is why as adults we have different skills and abilities due to the plasticities of the brain. As we get older, we build a large repertoire of skills that define us as individuals.

But can we engage and track new skills to improve our abilities for a better life? The fact that we now know the brain is highly plastic and adaptable means that we can train the brain to improve its health. Plastic research suggests that brain training or exercise strengthens neural connections and creates networks that can be remodelled and rewired for fine thinking, memory, creativity or cognitive abilities. We therefore need to get smart and improve the brain’s plasticity through regular exercise and brain training. The approach could also be used to prevent the onset of neurological disease – this is something that I have been trialing with my mother who has lewy body dementia, age 63.