My dad loved puzzles – jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, scrabble and word games. He used to bring little wooden puzzles for us to work on. I’m not sure where he got them, but we enjoyed taking them apart and figuring how to put them back together again. I later picked up a Rubics cube and had a fine time learning to solve it. In childhood our goal was to try to beat Dad at Scrabble. It took me a long time to do that – he was a master. Even after his strokes he still had a solid mind – it was just trapped by his speech difficulties.
Many people get lazy as they age and then wonder why their brain doesn’t function as it did when they were young. We all have struggles with memory, but we can prevent a large loss of memory by activities that promote synaptogenisis – the creation of more and stronger brain synapses.
Synapsis are the connections between neurons in our brain that facilitate communication and memory. There is a great surge in the development in synapses during childhood as we are learning loads of stuff every day. They say it peaks about age 20, but can continue to grow if we pursue the acquisition of not just knowledge but new experiences that will stimulate our brain. Especially helpful are activities that involve us reaching our of our comfort zone and normal environments. The brain reacts seeking to adapt to new environments and new information.
It goes beyond just learning by reading or seeing new things. If we learn a new skill our minds are involved in building new synapses to help our bodies build muscle memory. It is similar to how we can learn quicker if we both see and hear something or see and perform some physical activity. Do you ever consciously think about tying your shoes, for instance? You had to learn it as a kid, but now you have done it so many times it is automatic.
Synaptogenesis is important for several reasons. It helps us adapt to new situations, which happen all the time, whether we seek them out or not. It helps our memory function – our brain has more capacity to remember when it is constructing new synapses. And as we learn we can train our brain to work more efficietly.
It also can help with moods. We can train our brain to remember and focus on positive memories and new experiences and work to decrease stress. It doesn’t come without effort, but that is part of learning, correct? The creation of new synapses leading to new capacity and efficiency can forestall the onset of neurodegeneration which has plagued many late in life. My dad was fortunate that he did not experience that. It was a tribute to his lifetime commitment to learning.
If you would like to read more about this subject check out this helpful article in Mental Health Daily – Synaptogenesis: 9 Ways to Form New Synapsis in the Brain