What The Phrase "Use It Or Lose It" Means In Neuropsychology
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the central nervous system to form and reorganize neural connections in response to injury or a learning event. This trait allows the human brain to adapt and change depending on events or experiences. Human brains can adapt through learning when an individual practices a task repeatedly. However, if they do not follow through with this repetition, this adaptive ability is lost, and they lose these possible new neural pathways until they return to the practice. This phenomenon is often referred to as the central nervous system's "use it or lose it" insurance policy.
Researchers believe it may be possible to prevent or delay the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia by keeping our brains healthy. They hope that one day, brain plasticity exercises can be used as a treatment for these conditions. Understanding the connection between neurogenerative diseases and a healthy brain and how brain plasticity exercises can improve symptoms of these disorders can be beneficial for reducing the risk of early onset.
What Is Dementia?
Dementia is a syndrome that occurs due to a brain disease that impairs cognitive functioning. Dementia may manifest as foggy thinking, difficulty making decisions, inability to control emotions, and trouble with memory. It often occurs in older adults over 45 and may result from damage to brain cells.
Dementia is not a mental illness, as it is a neurological condition that occurs in the brain's neurons. Physically, the brain can move essential functions from one damaged area to another and change its structure in response to new experiences. When you offer your brain new skills and store ever-changing information, you are partaking in neuroplasticity by building and forming new connections, keeping your brain healthy. However, dementia can intercept these processes and cause cognitive difficulties.
Dementia can be scary, frustrating, and difficult for those who live with it. As the condition progresses, memory problems become more frequent, and individuals can forget loved ones, neglect their self-care, and miss financial obligations. Decreased communication skills and poor judgment may also lead to a diminished quality of life.
Dementia comes in many forms. Vascular dementia, for example, occurs when the brain does not get enough blood and may surface after a stroke. Dementia with Lewy bodies is a different form of the condition that results when abnormal protein clumps form in the brain's cortex. Dementia with Lewy bodies produces symptoms closely related to Parkinson's disease, such as hallucinations and difficulty with movement. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's.
What Is Alzheimer's Disease?
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), Alzheimer's affects roughly 6.5 million Americans and is currently the 5th most common cause of death in the United States. This disease is a form of dementia that gradually wears the brain away and is often seen in individuals 65 years and older. Certain risk factors for Alzheimer's may include genetics, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
There is no cure for Alzheimer's, and symptoms often progress over the remainder of one's life. The disease may begin subtly with short-term memory loss. Over time, the individual may experience problems with focus, confusion, trouble remembering where they are or who they are talking to, disorientation, bouts of anger, anxiety, depression, and difficulty communicating with others.
Ways To Train Your Brain
There are many ways to keep the brain healthy. The following suggestions are techniques to try when you want to exercise your brain.
Learn Something New
Formal education is one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy. Learning a new language, taking a few classes at your local community college, or trying a new activity may help you build new neural pathways and reduce your risk of age-related mental decline. Spend time pursuing a new area of interest or learn more about a skill or concept you already know.
Play An Instrument
Like formal education, playing an instrument may help you build new neural pathways. Between learning to read the notes on a page and using fine motor skills to produce sounds on an instrument, your brain and body coordination can help you improve your ability to multi-task, solve problems, and ground yourself.
Many people think learning a new instrument is an expensive endeavor, but you do not necessarily need to shell out money for a new piano or guitar. Look to more affordable options if you are brand new to the hobby by checking out instrument rentals from local music shops, joining small community classes where instruments are already provided, or trying an inexpensive instrument like the recorder or harmonica to start. You can also learn to sing; many cities have choirs or singing groups you can join.
Read A Book
Reading stimulates your brain. Interpreting words on a page can take a lot of mental skill. For example, your temporal lobe allows you to recognize words and sounds, while your frontal lobe is responsible for reading fluency and comprehension. All reading can benefit the brain, but sticking with new, complex, or educational information may give you a mental workout.
Logic games and puzzles are often valuable resources for building cognition. Activities like these work many parts of the brain, including those responsible for memory, decision-making, and problem-solving. You can try logic activities from home if you don't have a traditional chessboard or a crossword puzzle book. You may be able to find logic-based activities on the app store on your phone or online.
Many experts believe that having an active social life can improve brain health for all ages. Consider joining a local group of your interest and try to spend quality time with family and friends. Opportunities like volunteering or working part-time can also introduce you to new skills and groups of people. If you struggle to meet people in person, you can use social media to keep in touch with others or join social groups.
Take Care Of Your Body
Keeping your body healthy can keep your brain healthy. Take part in as much cardiovascular exercise as possible. Studies have revealed that heart disease health risks such as high blood pressure and diabetes may also significantly impact cognitive health. Doctors recommend a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in excess fat and sodium. Evidence also shows that getting regular sleep, cutting out smoking, and taking care of your mental health can benefit the brain.
If you're experiencing memory or cognitive challenges or want to increase your neuroplasticity, working with a counselor is one way to do so. In addition, you don't have to leave home to see a therapist. Many individuals connect with therapists from home by using online therapy platforms like BetterHelp.
Recent research shows that online therapy platforms can benefit those with various mental health challenges, including those leading to decreased cognitive functioning, such as depression or anxiety. In a comprehensive report published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science, researchers evaluated the efficacy of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for managing symptoms of varied psychiatric disorders. The study outlines several points supporting online counseling, including its cost-effectiveness and overall efficacy, concluding that online therapy is an effective form of treatment.
When you sign up for an online therapy platform, you can receive personalized guidance from a therapist matched to you. In addition, you can receive worksheets and resources to help you increase your neuroplasticity from home. When you sign up, you can choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with your therapist.
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What is the “use it or lose it” method?
The human brain can adapt and form new connections. The “use it or lose it” method allows the brain to adapt and change due to different experiences, supporting cognitive reserve or the brain’s ability to resist damage. These new connections are reinforced when someone is engaged in the learning process. When they aren’t, these connections are lost. The “use it or lose it” method is the idea that people can maintain new neural connections in the central nervous system environment by continuing to learn.
What does “use it or lose it” mean in reference to pruning?
Synaptic pruning is the targeted elimination of functional synapses. The timing and amount of neural activity may be central to determining which synapses get reinforced and which get weaker. That is to say, when you use these synapses, they may be less likely to get lost.
Does your brain get better the more you use it?
Yes. Taking part in healthy behaviors and activities that stimulate the brain can help your brain get better and reduce the risk of cognitive decline later in life. One study discovered that older adults who participate in engaging activities improve the density of white matter in their brains, which can help increase cognitive ability.
How should I use my brain?
There are multiple ways to use your brain. Creative outlets, like making art, learning to play an instrument, or doing creative writing, can improve cognitive function, memory recall, and processing speed. Choose something challenging. If you’re not ready to try something new, take leisure activities that you already enjoy and try to raise the bar. For example, you can aim to improve your golf score, switch from oil paint to watercolors, or try to learn a more challenging piece on the piano. The best way to use your brain may be to choose something that requires consistent practice, but mastery is not the goal. Constant repetition may impact your brain the most. Interestingly, physical activity like strength training or cardio exercise can also help.
What does “use it or lose it” mean in psychology?
In psychology, “brain use it or lose it” is a simple way of explaining neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the central nervous system’s ability to form and reorganize connections in response to different experiences and events. Human brains can adapt through repetitive tasks. If tasks are not repeated, neurons can be lost.
What is an example of “use it or lose it”?
A simple example of “use it or lose it” in everyday life can be practicing a musical instrument, stopping for a few years, and then trying to play that instrument again. For example, if you play the piano and spend months learning how to play a complicated piece, you will likely be able to play it skillfully as long as you continue to practice. If you stop practicing and try to come back and play the piece a year later, it’s likely that you won’t be able to play it as well as you did when you were practicing. After five years, you may not be able to play it at all.
What is an example of “use it or lose it” neuroplasticity?
A great example of “use it or lose it” neuroplasticity can be in stroke recovery. Research suggests that therapy that is high intensity, involves a high dose, or occurs over a long period is beneficial. In other words, the more people use their brains during stroke recovery, the more beneficial the therapy.
What occurs in the brain during the pruning process?
Pruning is the process the body uses to eliminate synapses in the brain. The amount and timing of neural activity may be central to determining what synapses get reinforced and which get destroyed. The immune system seems to be essential in carrying out the elimination process. Researchers believe that proteins in the immune system may tag cell membranes and tell the microglia, the main immune defense in the central nervous system, what to surround.
Why does our brain prune itself or reduce the number of connections in our brain?
Some researchers believe that pruning can optimize brain function. Much like pruning a rosebush, removing weaker structures shifts resources to the remaining parts, which allows them to grow stronger. Neural networks that start from an overabundance of structures that are then pruned may lead to more efficient and robust cognitive performance.
What are the benefits of using your brain?
Using your brain can have many benefits, including possibly delaying or preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive impairment and combating cognitive aging by improving memory and cognitive ability.
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