So every day for 47 years I have brushed my teeth using my right hand. Today I used my left hand. The reason is that I am making my brain stronger by asking it to do things differently.
Since coming to work for the Alzheimer's Association, Greater Illinois Chapter, I've learned that some people can live much less affected by the disease than others. As a matter of fact, two people can have the very same devastation to their brains (shrinking, dying brain cells, etc.) and the difference in how they are impaired can be like night and day. The reason is something called "cognitive reserve."
When we have a more extensive social life and are more mentally active, our brains have more pathways being exercised for neurons to fire and for thoughts to happen and memories to get stored. So if a brain cell dies that is along the pathway where my brain normally sends a thought, if I have built up "cognitive reserve" by being very mentally active, my brain can easily send that thought along a different pathway.
It's like the old saying "there's more than one way to skin a cat." By keeping our brain active in many different ways (not just doing crossword puzzles...) like socially, problem solving, doing different physical exercises, etc., we have a brain that is much more resilient.
So today I brushed my teeth with my left hand instead of my right hand. Tonight I will drive home a different way and I will think of doing a lot of things differently. I want to build up cognitive reserve — not so it will prevent me from getting Alzheimer's disease, because we still don't know how to do that — but so that I will have a stronger brain and if I do get the disease, I will be less affected in the early stages.
If you know someone with Alzheimer's or another dementia, consider attending our free, one hour seminar Monday evening, October 1st at the St. Charles Park District . Call 815 744 0804 for more information.