innovationGetting the balance for innovation, ideas and brain function may be as easy as working out your brain, body and getting stress free time and quality sleep.  We are never too old to learn, the brain remains functional and flexible throughout life. In the cognitively impaired the neuro-modulatory systems may be compromised due to inefficient use of acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin and/or neurophenephrine. In neurotransmitters optimum regulation is important for neural regeneration. Acetylcholine modulates synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, striatum and cortex, areas which are critical for learning and memory. Dopamine mediates multiple aspects of cognition, emotion and motor function and reward prediction. Serotonin regulates the time scale of reward and influencing motivation and fulfillment while nor epinephrine levels influence focus and alertness. A combined degradation may weaken the brain’s ability to advance and regenerate new patterns in response to life stimuli. This could leave the brain trapped in outdated patterns of activation.

Valenzuela and Sachdev reasoned that triggering new patterns through intensive training may change the neurobiological climate of the brain thus providing neuro protective benefits and improving quality of life. They report that after five weeks of intensive memory training, participants increased non dementia brain chemistry markers (enhanced brain derived neurotrophic factor production) concentrated in the hippocampus which is a brain region initially affected in Alzheimer’s disease.  They state target specific consistent cognitive computer exercise may lead to increased metabolic efficiency across whole brain networks, temporarily increasing blood oxygen response. They claim functional reorganization in the prefrontal cortex takes place through training. This training is maximized through the consolidation that comes with sleep. Ever heard the expression I need to sleep on it…you probably do!

For more information on sleep and learning this post may be of interest For a great review on how sleep matter please see the slideshow by Dr. Adonis Sfera below:

Remediation of higher order cognition skills does not have to be computer dependent. Scholz, Klein, Behrens, and Johansen-berg, trained the elderly to juggle over a three month period. They found training specific grey and white matter brain changes after 3 months. The research indicates three months of inactivity was associated with a decline in grey and white matter but not to baseline levels, similar findings are demonstrated in recent computer based brain training studies.

One advantage of non computer interfaces is that participants can use three dimensional representations and whole body skills involving proprioception, motor skills and balance. Cognitive improvement has long been associated with balance and coordination training. Just five days of walking six miles per week resulted in lower rates of dementia and higher quality of life measures. With neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s it has been found that while individuals may be incapable of walking they can bicycle. Early research is underway to determine if bicycling with specially prepared music could restore functional loss. The computer imposes two dimensional representations of three dimensional forms, a limitation which may reduce generalization to other skills. Commercial products such as the Nintendo Wii may be adapted for accessible use and work as a bridge between two and three dimensional worlds. Wii is used in multiple facilities to teach balance, posture and coordination and as a home therapy addition to treatment.

Computer based brain training and innovative physiotherapy can allow individuals to retain independence, social connections and quality of life particularly if these interventions are started early and remain targeted, challenging and promote engagement. The computer provides a non judgmental learning space where individuals can to turn weaknesses into strength with the power of their own minds.


Amy Price

About Amy Price

Amy Price is a research graduate student at Oxford University. working on ThinkWellTM with her supervisor Professor Amanda Burls.. Through ThinkWell and my project PLOT (Public- Led Online Trials) we help people learn about clinical trials and research by doing research together with the public using citizen science projects. We believe health research should try to address the questions that are most important to ordinary people and patients. Research needs to be done well to minimize bias. ThinkWellTM turns health research on its head by enabling the public to lead health research (with support from health researchers and professionals to ensure that the research is valid and reliable) instead of health researchers and professionals setting the research agenda and patients and the public simply being the subjects of, or participants in, this research. “Tell me and I will forget. Teach me and I will remember. Involve me and I will learn.” Using all the senses engraves understanding in the brain and allows us to process information at multiple levels. ThinkWellTM will change the understanding of health science and make this science accessible for all.