Posts Tagged ‘Michael Valenzuela’

How the Cognitive Reserve Works

December 22, 2017

There have been many previous healthy memory posts informing its readers that there are people who die with brains filled with amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, but who never exhibited any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s. About one-third of the people who die without cognitive problems have had the plaques and tangles that define Alzheimer’s Disease. It is believed that intellectual stimulation builds this cognitive reserve. HM has advanced the notion that it is specifically Daniel Kahneman’s System 2 processing that largely builds this cognitive reserve.

The question is what is the cause or causes of this cognitive reserve? Jeremy Herskowitz at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and his colleagues studied brain samples from 41 people. They had either beta-amyloid plaques but not symptoms, plaques and symptoms, or no plaques or symptoms. The team took close-up pictures of the samples, then used software to trace the physical shape of the brain cells and their connections or synapses. This technique allowed the team to visualize the first neuron of a pair that make up a synapse. This neuron sends out small buds known as spines which connect with projections from other neurons. Each synapse exists where a spine links to a projection. The spines of people who were Alzheimer’s resistant were longer than those from the other groups (Annals of Neurology, dos.org/cgfx).

Synapses are where signals pass from one neuron to another. Herskowitz says “the longer spines might make the synapse more effective in this role. Or new spines might be growing outwards to generate more synapses to replace those destroyed by plaques and tangles.” Herskowitz goes on to say,”It’s possible that the spines are reaching out to maintain the synaptic connections. They are putting themselves out there to catch a new one.”

Michael Valenzuela at the University of Sydney says that this finding may not be the only explanation. Brain imaging studies suggest that people who are resistant to Alzheimer’s may compensate for damage by using different parts of their brain. It should also be noted that these explanations are not mutually exclusive. They could both be operative.

The news here is that we have reasonable explanations as to what accounts for this cognitive reserve. However, it has long be expected that this cognitive reserve is built by cognitive activity. HM further postulates that it is System 2 processing of Kahneman’s ilk that is primarily responsible for the cognitive reserve.

So live a healthy lifestyle, stay cognitively engaged, and foster growth mindsets for a health memory.

This post is based on an article by Claire Wilson titled “Elongating your brain cells could ward off Alzheimer’s in the News & Technology section of the 25 November 2017 issue of the New Scientist.

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