Smorgasbord Health – The Dynamics of Change – Our Mental Being

dsc_1737In the previous post I looked at the voluntary and involuntary changes to our body during our lifetime and where we can influence those changes for better health and longevity. This time it is our mental being that is the focus.

In this post I am taking a look at the enforced hardware changes in the brain that affect us all. Also the voluntary choices we make during that process that also impact software function, particularly when we do not upgrade certain programmes.

All of us as we get into our 60s notice physical changes that are obvious when we look in the mirror and also when we exert ourselves physically. We are also aware of changes to the facility with which our major organs deal with their own aging process and the effects of a lifetime of dietary and lifestyle choices, imposed or voluntarily applied.

In all my discussions with those in their 70s, 80s and 90s there has been definitely one fear above all others that trumps the usual aging issues.

Dementia.
Apart from the fact that nobody wants to lose control over their mental capacity there is also the fear of being a burden, of being isolated from friends and family and perhaps institutionalised.

The media does not help with daily reports about how dementia is going to be rampant in the aging population and that nobody is prepared for the millions that will be affected by the disease. Scientists are little better with confusing and conflicting research, usually perpetrated upon species other than our own, which points to hundreds of causes from cooking in aluminium pots to dental X-rays being the cause of this devastating disease. There also seems to be daily ‘scientific’ strategies to prevent the disease which more often than not are at odds with each other.

My opinion is this. There is a completely natural growth, development, aging, degenerating cycle in brain health. We can do nothing about some of the phases that the organ goes through in its lifetime. We can however influence a number of factors that support the brain on its journey and even if we cannot prevent the inevitable erosion of general function we can at least ensure that we do not cause further damage by the lifestyle choices we make along the way.

It is important to remember that only 100 years ago the average lifespan for a man was 50 and for a woman 54. Today that is nearer to 78 for men and 84 for women. This means that for the first time in our human history we are most of us living long enough for our brain cells to go through the aging process themselves.

For those who are mothers it is also absolutely essential that they make the right choices for their unborn babies who cannot make those choices for themselves. As you will see as I go through the development of the brain, those first 6 months in the womb are absolutely critical for brain health.

The bottom line is that if you understand how something works it holds fewer mysteries and less fear. Appreciating and respecting the brain for the miracle that it is, will also encourage you to support it and its function for a lifetime.

Main-parts-of-the-Brain-72dpiHow the brain develops.

We are hard wired and from the moment of conception there will be enforced changes to the structure and function of our brains. Whilst the process of development is beyond our control, there is still a powerful external influence on how well that programming is carried out. Before birth the health, nutrition, environment and lifestyle choices of the mother can impact both the rate of brain development and the health of the brain cells. After birth during the formative years up to age 15, environment, nutrition and stimulation of those brain cells is critical and if they do not receive sufficient amounts of all of these there is a chance that irreversible damage will occur.

The development of the brain does not follow a straight upward line it comes in waves with certain parts of the brain achieving full function at different times. There is however a sequence that every brain will follow.

At conception the sperm and the egg form a single cell combining to form the genetic blueprint. Over 60% of our genes are committed to forming our brain which is after all the control centre for all our other functions. Around three to four weeks into development a thin layer of cells form in the embryo, which then fold and fuse to form a liquid filled tube. This minute start is vital as it is the first stage in the development of the brain and spinal cord. This is followed by the production of nerve cells called neurons.

A miracle occurs as cells in the neural tube accelerate at an amazing rate reaching around 15million neurons an hour. This rate of growth continues for the first six months of a foetus’s development.

At around 14 weeks with millions of cells in place a change occurs as they begin to migrate to specific parts of the neural network and the inbuilt GPS usually sends them to the correct address. Some do however get lost or damaged in transit and die off.

Rarely however some do reach the wrong destination and form incorrect connections. This coding error can lead to certain disorders such as autism or epilepsy, slower physical and mental development and in some cases more severe mental health issues.

At 20 weeks about half the existing cells are shed and those that remain are organised into compartments within the brain that govern virtually every automatic function in our bodies and also our senses and skills.

scan12a-sally

At birth we have around 100 billion brain cells and we begin the next stage in our development. Most of the connections between the neurons are barely formed and will need to be strengthened by the time we reach the age of three. A baby has most of the senses working at birth such as sight, smell, hearing and the ability to respond to touch. Immediately with that first breath the brain kicks into overdrive and forms trillions of connections and pathways enabling learning.

As with the early development of the brain, it is vital that the environment, nutrition and stimulation are available to enable the brain to process and learn from experience.

These experiences trigger the electrical activity necessary to enable the brain to develop connections and grow. These connections are called synapses. The connections are formed by each neuron putting out a long tentacle like fibre called an axon. The neuron uses the axon to send messages to other neurons. The messages are sent as electrical signals and picked up by thousands of short, hair like fibres called dendrites (also produced by the neurons). Each neuron is able to connect up with thousands of other neurons.

scan7a-sally

It is then that ‘practice makes perfect’ comes into play as repeated experiences, sights, smells or movements form well-worn paths within the brain that we remember for a lifetime. By age two our brains have developed trillions of these pathways and although they continue to form throughout our lifetime they have reached their highest density.
Our higher functioning ability is usually operational by age three and we begin to think for ourselves, use language effectively and have developed personality traits.

After three years old we continue to absorb knowledge and experience like a sponge and the constant practice etches the functions into the brain. If that absorption ceases for some reason and we stop practicing certain functions, we can lose them completely as the brain discards little used pathways in favour of more travelled routes.

This pruning process and strengthening of the connections in the brain is most active in the teen years. The prefrontal cortex is the last to mature and it involves the control of impulses and decision-making. Anyone who has had children going through this phase will have a clear understanding of the ‘challenges’ that arise during this phase! This powerful surge in the brain is accompanied by the added influx of hormones which results in a chemical and electrical ‘perfect storm’.

There is a strong element of voluntary change at this stage of the development of the brain. It is around this age that we start making choices about what we eat, the amount of exercise we take, to take up smoking or drinking alcohol and to stop formal education. All these elements will affect the few years left of brain development we have left and therefore our mental capacity.

The brain continues to defrag the mainframe and the strongest connections survive. By our early 20s our brain development is matured into a powerful and functioning organ with approximately 500 trillion pathways.

At around 30 years old the physical changes will wind down in the brain and this is where even more of a voluntary contribution to growth, experience and maintenance is required to keep the pathways clear of debris such as plaque so that they continue to function efficiently. This phase lasts for the next 35 or 40 years. The brain cells are active and we contribute to their health by diet, stimulation and avoiding lifestyle choices that kill them off. Such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, not taking exercise, eating a diet rich in components that block our arteries and blood flow to the brain……you get the idea.

sgc-headshot-2-10-dec-2016-dsc_2195

After 65 years old there is a natural dying off of cells in certain parts of the brain. This does not mean that you will lose all your mental capacity, but little things will begin to make an impact on your daily functioning. For example brain cells lost from the Hippocampus where we process memories will result in forgetfulness.

You are NOT destined to develop full blown dementia and you can make sure that you support your brain function by eating a healthy balanced diet, getting plenty of oxygen and regular exercise, reducing stress and interacting with others and events to stimulate the pathways to remain open. More so than at any other time in the lifespan of your brain, the voluntary choices and changes you make to your way of life will bring huge benefits.

There are many ways to keep your brain active and stimulated from doing crosswords, learning a new language, joining groups such as Book Clubs, travelling to new places and countries, writing a blog, writing a book.. and that is just the start.

Our brains are one of the most important assets we have.. if you don’t use it you lose it.

You can find the previous post on Physical changes in the directory

 

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This entry was posted in It is a Wonderful Life. by Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.. Bookmark the permalink.

About Smorgasbord - Variety is the Spice of Life.

My name is Sally Cronin and I am doing what I love.. Writing. Books, short stories, Haiku and blog posts. My previous jobs are only relevant in as much as they have gifted me with a wonderful filing cabinet of memories and experiences which are very useful when putting pen to paper. I move between non-fiction health books and posts and fairy stories, romance and humour. I love variety which is why I called my blog Smorgasbord Invitation and you will find a wide range of subjects. You can find the whole story here. Find out more at https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/about-me/

35 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health – The Dynamics of Change – Our Mental Being

  1. I love the exploratory journey! Will read it again more carefully when I’m more awake!!

    Same time, there is research now that indicates that in the US at least the rate of Alzheimer’s is slowing down. I think there’s a diet, lifestyle, etc., component. See http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2587084 It makes sense, if you consider that it takes about 15-20 years for the symptoms to become apparent, and in the late 1990w, early 2000s, “middle aged” people were really starting to increase their exercise, lower their sugar intake, eat more whole grains, lower cholesterol, etc.

    Always a pleasure to read your posts, Sally.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Jane and I agree for our generation certainly there is a healthier nutritional gap between the rationing and more frugal diet of the earlier part of the 20th century and the increase in industrialised foods and fast foods..
      I do wonder how that generation will do! Will head over and read the article thanks for sharing.. hugs ..

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    Sally Cronin wears many hats (and helps promote Indie writers as well); one thing she is expert at is how to stay healthy – as she says here: Our brain is one of the most important assets we have.. if you don’t use it you lose it.” Read on more more…thanks for a great post, Sally!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sally Cronin wears many hats (and helps promote Indie writers as well); one thing she is expert at is how to stay healthy – as she says here: Our brain is one of the most important assets we have.. if you don’t use it you lose it.” Read on more more…thanks for a great post, Sally!!!
    Reblogged, Sally, with the above comment – much love!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Smorgasbord Health – The Dynamics of Change – Our Mental Being | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  5. Fascinating post. I did worry about how often I was forgetting names until I realised that all my friends were forgetting them, too. Now, I’m more relaxed though we do often have strange conversations along the lines of, “Did you see that film last night? Can’t remember the name – you know, the one with thingummy in it who was in that other film called…”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A very interesting and life affirming post, Sally. I also agree with Mira that attitude goes a long way to maintaining our mental health. Some deterioration is probably inevitable, but if we stay engaged with life, our chance for a great quality of life into our advanced years remains high. I have an aunt who will be 100 at the end of the year. She walks everywhere because she never cared to learn to drive. She writes wonderfully lucid holiday letters yearly, and supports various causes of her choice by sharing her views. Indeed, she is still engaged in life, and that is a reflection of her attitude. Thank you for sharing your insights!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Dave.. How wonderful that your aunt is getting the most out of life. Something we all wish for.. I do believe that the technology that our generation has access to will make a difference in our lifetimes. I hope I grow old disgracefully and still capable of a surprise or two at 100… I appreciate your comment. Sally

      Like

    • Dave,
      Great example of your aunt. I often think that one way to get the most OUT of life is by putting the most INTO life. Being involved with causes that one believes in, where one can still make an impact and be heard!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – Opera, bloggers, authors, health, Haiku and a few laffs | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  8. Okay, Sally, I just read this carefully and deliberately. It’s really interesting. So “forgetting” is really just NOT making connections.
    I find this inspiring, how we can continue to keep the brain in good working condition, even as it naturally slows down. Thanks a million millions!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Yes! Good point. (Can’t count the hours I’ve put into looking up this online.) PLUS the first generation to get the benefit of all the studies that have been done to understand the extremely quick rise in the rates of dementia and possible ways to present it.

    Liked by 1 person

I would be delighted to receive your feedback. Thanks Sally

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