Infant stimulation – what on earth has this got to do with preventing Alzheimer’s disease?
Well, you are probably familiar with the phrase “use it or lose it”, and when it comes to mental health, research has now proven that this adage is true.
Have you ever thought back to when you were very young (assuming that you can remember that far back, of course), and considered how you know so many things that were never explicitly taught in school?
A good example would be most of the words you use on a day-to-day basis – you almost certainly didn’t learn the vast majority of these words in English lessons.
No, you absorbed them, almost osmotically, and for the most part derived their meanings from the contexts in which you heard them, and what may surprising to some people is that this process starts when you’re very young – before you can even talk!
If you think about it, children, especially babies and toddlers, have a massive amount of knowledge that they need to acquire in order to, one day, lead a normal, functioning life.
So it is perhaps no coincidence that the very Synapse xt building blocks of memory, the neuronal synapses (i.e. the connections in your brain that help you to remember things), are in enormous supply when you are very young.
In fact, you have a huge excess of these synapses, which are there so that you can learn as much as about your world as you can, as soon as you can.
But the problem is that these synapses start to die off, from the age of six, if they are not used (although this process never stops).
This revelation has incredible life-changing implications.
Research conducted at Columbia University in the 1990s proved that people with less than an eighth-grade education were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s in later life as those people who spent a longer amount of time in formal education.
But it gets worse than that – given that people with a lower education tend, on the whole, to end up in more physical, less mentally demanding and stimulating jobs, then their risk of getting Alzheimer’s is actually three times higher.
So, that means that the more you can stimulate your brain, and the more of these neuronal synapses you can use, especially at an early age (before the age of six, remember), but in fact at all stages of life, the better your chances of remaining mentally healthy.
As an adult, for example, then if you do happen to have a job that is undemanding, and in today’s economy, not everybody ends up in jobs that really make best use of their talents, then find a hobby that will get those neurons firing.
For example, you could read more books, do crosswords or Sudoku puzzles, write poetry, join a debating society, become a toastmaster, help teach others to read, learn a foreign language, go to night school – the list of options is endless.
But how can you help your children, to make sure they keep as many of those neuronal synapses from dying off as you can?