By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor
Cognitive reserve, the term used to describe the mechanism by which a person’s mind can compensate for damage to their brain, has become a buzzword in the medical community, thanks to its connection to one of the most infamous issues of modern aging: dementia.
Research indicates that people who have solid stores of cognitive reserve are generally less likely to exhibit the classic signs of dementia—short-term memory loss, difficulty multitasking, etc.—even if their brain scans indicate mental damage. This is because cognitive reserve effectively makes the mind stronger and more nimble, enabling it to come up with ways to compensate for disease-related loss of functioning.
Seek out and embrace new challenges; your brain will thank you
Shlomo Breznitz, Ph.D., founder of Cognifit and author of Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom, feels that finding ways to consistently engage the brain with new and stimulating experiences is the key to cultivating more cognitive reserve and staving off mental decline.
No matter what age they are, Breznitz stresses that starting a cognitive fitness regimen may help a person ward off the symptoms of dementia. “Our cognitive skills are not fixed. At all ages the brain has the ability to respond to new information and new stimuli,” he says.
More confusion now may mean less confusion later
According to Breznitz, the twin traits of novelty and variety are invaluable when coming up with activities to enhance cognitive reserve. Sudoku and crosswords alone won’t work, he says. You’ve got to get creative when coming up with ways to stimulate the brain.
In the same way elite athletes and their trainers use the concept of muscle confusion (varying the types and duration of exercises to expose weaknesses and challenge muscles in new ways) to maximize their physical fitness, switching up the things you do to engage your mental muscle can help maximize your mental fitness.
“Challenging the brain helps maintain cognitive vigor and capacity. And maintaining our cognitive health maintains our quality of life,” Breznitz says.
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The Curiosity Challenge: 8 Ways to Construct Cognitive Reserve originally appeared on AgingCare.com.