Neuroplasticity is the capacity of your brain to change, for better or for worse, in response to your internal and external experiences.
Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing; the study and application of what it takes for people and communities to adapt and thrive; and the study of building the best things in life.
It is my passion, privilege and pleasure to interpret evolving neuroscience for the purpose of empowering all interested parties to enhance their brain health. There is so much to say about how far neuroscience has come that my plan is to provide a series of articles on the joy of sharing this news and the progress of our work to form a Brain Health International Rotary Action Group.
For starters, we are gifted to be alive in the age of technology which brings us unprecedented hope that we might enjoy “Enriching Heredity” (Marian Diamond, 1988) by using evidence-based interventions. Hope and other positive perspectives can help foster brain health; let’s begin there.
The Alzheimer’s/Dementia Rotary Action Group and Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, of Harvard have a goal to end dementia. Learn more about that at ADRAG.org.
As the database for ending dementia grows, we have other sources of hope. According to Brookmeyer (2007), if all we do is delay the onset of dementia by one year, we could have nearly 9,200,000 fewer cases by 2050. Surely that makes improving brain health a top priority worldwide!
Is delay possible?
I need to emphasize a few things. First, nothing I write is healthcare advice. I am simply sharing evolving neuroscience for you to use at your discretion, preferably with counsel from your healthcare provider. Remember that even the gold standard research studies, random controlled trials, are still only probability statements that pertain to the population studied. The hope is that you will find something within the data provided in everything I write that will make your heart sing as you do everything you choose to do to maximize your brain health.
Our Brain Health International efforts are a complement to the ADRAG.org aim in that we inform people about evolving research as a way to empower you to design your own unique way to use neuroscience to become Outliers, the term Malcolm Gladwell used for individuals that exceed expectations. My belief that I can enhance my Brain Power by doing those things research has associated with vigorous physical and mental longevity motivates and energizes my use of what I teach. However, just to be clear, the ONLY promise I make is this: I will share all empowering neuroscience I can manage to read on using Positive Psychology to drive neuroplasticity in a positive direction for the health of it.
The background begins with Marian Diamond because she was the first to flesh out how much could be accomplished in brain plasticity at any age. We can think of her as the Mother of Neuroplasticity. When she reported to the scientific community on finding, across the lifeline of her laboratory rats, increased brain volume and increased brain cell complexity as a result of living in an enriched environment, she said these benefits occurred even in the elderly. Another researcher in the audience responded with: “Young Lady, you cannot claim that your rats are elderly because ours live” to be much older than your rats.
On returning to her lab, the only change she made was having technicians hold and talk to their rats. Let’s consider that the first use of Positive Psychology to drive neuroplasticity in a positive direction because the lifespan of their rats increased by 50% to the equivalent of 90 human years AND the same brain gains were observed across their entire rat lifespan! Thus, your first fun and energizing homework assignment is to watch Marian Diamond: Older Brains, New Connections on YouTube. All homework assignments are volitional; this one is likely to leave you grinning and making plans for how you will enrich your life going forward. Diamond predicted that humans could appreciate the same brain gains at any age; stay tuned for cutting-edge neuroscience that has proven her prediction to be spot on.
· Diamond, Marian. (1988). Enriching Heredity: The Impact of the Environment on the Anatomy of the Brain. New York: The Free Press.
· Diamond, Marian & Janet Hopson. (1999). Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nurture Your Child’s Intelligence, Creativity and Healthy Emotions from Birth through Adolescence. New York: Plume.
· Diamond, M., Johnson, R, Protti, A., Ott, C & Kajisa L. (1984). Plasticity in the 904-day-old male rat cerebral cortex. Experimental Neurology, 87, 309-317.
· Gladwell, Malcolm. (2011). Outliers: The Story of Success.
· Joyce Shaffer, PhD, is a psychologist, nurse, speaker, global bicyclist and author. She is a co-founder and collaborator in developing a Rotary Action Group for the sole purpose of improving brain health anywhere on our good globe.
· You can contact Dr. Shaffer via the IdealAging.com website.
· The opinions expressed in this Make-up Article do not necessarily represent the opinions of Rotary eClub One and its editorial staff