Posts Tagged ‘cognitive challenges’

Cognitive Challenge in Youth

June 3, 2014

Although it might sound ironic, cognitive challenges in youth play an important role in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind, which is the title of an important book by Greenwood and Parasuraman.  There has been much carefully controlled research with non-human subjects that has demonstrated this point.  This research has documented brain changes associated with cognitive enrichment.   For example, there are increases in dendritic extent, the number of dendritic spines, and in the density of synapses.  Should such changes take place in the brains of human youth, these brain changes might persist throughout adulthood and provide a defense against later loss and cognitive decline.  This might be of part the basis of the cognitive reserve that has been repeatedly discussed in the healthy memory blog.
As there are both practical and ethical problems in conducting comparable research with humans, the epidemiological evidence makes the same point.  Higher educational achievement in youth is associated with better cognitive functioning and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s later in life.   It is also associated with greater reliance on the prefrontal cortex that is important for compensatory processing. This not to say that higher educational achievement later in life is not beneficial, but rather to point out that it is preferable to start nurturing the brain while we are young.

Of course, there are many other benefits of higher educational achievement, but the nurturing of the brain is another one and an important one.  Just considering the social costs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is important to stress educational achievement, not only for our children and grandchildren, but for all children and young people.

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