Dr. Michael Merzenich is one of the key players in research into neuroplasticity. “Soft-Wired” is the title of his book, with the sub-title “How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life. Dr. Merzenich has appeared in previous healtymemory blog posts. Soft-wired implies that the brain can change for the better, but he also notes that it can change of the worse.
Dr. Merzenich writes well and presents good explanations of how the brain works, how it creates “you,” and how the brain changes throughout one’s lifetime. Included there are not only descriptions of normal aging, but also of injuries and diseases that cause problems. However, the section on normal aging is quite depressing. One is likely to give up and quit reading without the promise that this can be mitigated or corrected via neuroplasticity.
He does offer a description of daily activities that contribute to the Maintenance of a Healthy Brain. He has a chapter devoted to how he has organized his life so he can continue to thrive and grow. He discusses navigating the modern world and taking a holistic approach to improving our lives. The final chapter is titled, “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life—Begin the Transformation to a New, Better Life Right Now.”
What I found to most most disappointing was his failure to discuss what was discussed in the healthymemoy blog post “Alzheimer’s and a Cognitive Reserve.” Even if he was not aware of the research of Dr. David A. Bennet, and there is little excuse for his lack of awareness, he makes no mention of the fact frequently mentioned in the healthy memory blog that there have been many people whose brains were wreaked with the defining neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaque of Alzheimers, yet who never evidenced any behavioral or cognitive symptoms.
He does have a chapter titled, “Programs for Brain Rejuvenation and Brain Recovery—Features of Effective, Internet-Delivered, Neuroscience-Based Programs Designed to Grow, Rejuvenate, and Recover—Then Sustain—Brain Health. Dr. Merzenich does have a company, Posit Science that develops and administers these programs. HM believes in the claims he makes for these programs, and Dr. Merzenich does note that these programs are not mandatory for brain health. There are many, centenarians included, who have died without exhibiting any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s (even though they could have had the defining clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s).
Dr Merzenich does neglect the wisdom coming from the East. Even though he offers perfuse complements about the Dalai Lama and has participated in the conferences at Mind and Life Institute in Dharmsala, India that have demonstrated the pronounced effects of meditation, he makes no mention of meditation. Although he does not explicitly invoke mindfulness, some of his exercises are of the “being in the moment” type. He does have a complementary single sentence on Tai Chi, but that’s it (Healthymemory readers should be expecting some health memory blog posts on Tai Chi later this year).
HM reiterates the importance of meditation and the fostering of growth mindsets for a healthy memory. The extra ingredients of GRIT including passion can be added. But it needs to be understood that these are a matter of lifestyle rather than taking specific training. Even if one avails oneself of this online training, one must continue the training. There are no short-term fixes for memory health. Memory health is dependent on brain health and brain health is like body health, sometime that needs to be maintained throughout ones’ lifetime.
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