Waste not, Want not
Stop using your mental skills – you’ll lose them. It’s similar to losing physical skills – If you’ve ever had an arm or leg in a caste you know how muscles atrophy.
In middle age, after formal education is finished, careers established, children in school, we have a tendency to not challenge ourselves to learning new things and our brain “muscle” is not stimulated. Start learning again and “fuzzy” thinking sharpens up. However, it takes motivation to stretch ourselves by working our brains hard – learning new things that may not be necessary for daily living or survival.
The Good News
When you learn anything new your brain creates a brain map. As you learn your brain map for the information or skill enlarges, becomes more efficient and unneeded pathways – thoughts or actions – drop out, leaving the essentials.
Your brain gets faster at the skill as the brain signals become sharper, more powerful. To create more “brain muscle” you need concentrated focus, need to pay attention. Striving and focus stimulate the brains attentional system, the nucleus basalis. This area secretes acetylcholine which helps the brain make sharp memories. People with mild cognitive impairment show very little acetylcholine in their nucleus basilis.
Even Better News
Even “old folks” can tune their brains by focused attention. However, even more intense concentration than when younger is needed to get the brain chemicals going that regulate plasticity.
While genetic factors are 10%-15% responsible for the development of the degenerative brain disease, engaging in preventive activities such as reading, learning new professions, and trying to learn poetry by heart, are among the practices that can help deter the risk.
Source: Norman Doidge “The Brain that Changes Itself”