Christina Sibley, EMT/RMA
Bachelor of Science Health Studies-Gerontology emphasis
We’ve all heard it, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. The assumption being that learning or improving our brains is somehow behind us, past a certain age. The truth is, that’s a bunch of malarky. Our brains continue to grow new connections, reorganize connections, and prune unused ones, through our entire lives. This is called brain plasticity.
In short, the nerve cells in our brains look a little like trees. There’s nerve endings where roots would be, these receive signals. There’s a sort of trunk, that contains an axon and a cell body, signals travel through/over this, and finally there’s an area that looks like spread out branches, these are dendrites and they send the signal to the next cell.
These amazing cells are lined up end to end (axons to dendrites). There are tiny gaps (synapses) in between and chemicals (called neurotransmitters) move between the two ends, to send and receive signals. These individual cells line up, bunch together, and make up our brain, spinal cord and all our nerves.
The cells and connections between cells can be damaged by many things, but our brains are designed to attempt self-repair, to make new branches/connections or to make a new connection with a different neuron, and clean out damaging proteins/debris. This repair and reorganization, according to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in his new book Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, happens best, it turns out, when we sleep.
We form new connections and memories all the time, especially in the areas of the brain we use often. The more we visit the information or skill, the more the area builds and becomes permanent. It has to go from short term memory, which we lose quickly, to long term memory.
This new cell growth is helped by good overall nutrition and moderate exercise. Get the blood flowing with plenty of nutrients and oxygen, and good things happen to our bodies. We’ve been told this for years. Easier said than done, but it’s worth a revisit and it holds true for all our cells.
Many of us have kids and/or grandkids that we have watched grow. As children they have to build massive amounts of brain cells/neurons that go all over their bodies. They are also building muscle cells and dexterity. How do they do it? They play of course.
They’re active physically. They are unafraid and learn new things and skills all the time, from us or in school. They’re mentally active. They laugh, dance, dream, and create for their own benefit, simply because it feels good.
So the next time you think “I can’t learn that” know that you absolutely CAN. If you feel intimidated or awkward, take a lesson from your kids/grandkids and play to learn. Within reason, of course, no rollerblading, and consult your physician. Be unafraid to learn. Don’t worry about how long it takes or that it’s a work in progress. The act of learning new things and skills is what helps keep our brains, and bodies, healthy and functioning properly. Your awesome brain will thank you!
Christina Sibley, with Sibley Insures, is a licensed health insurance agent who specializes in Medicare plans, all types, and Medicare education. Call (405) 655-6098 or visit sibleyinsures.com. See our ad in the Resource Directory on page 17.