September 21st is observed as the Alzheimer's day, the day we have kept aside lest we forget the unfortunate dementia stricken seniors amongst us.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of memory loss and mental deterioration which usually starts in the sixth to seventh decades of life.
When the memory goes, with it goes the delicate emotions of love and caring. Such a situation could cause intense emotional upheavals in the near and dear ones. The patients, "fortunately", do not realize this, as they care less and less about their surroundings and withdraw altogether to a world of blank gloominess!
Studies have revealed that Alzheimer's disease occurs when a protein called amyloid gets deposited in the brain tissues disturbing the normal neuro-chemical, and biological functioning of the brain and the neural transmission between the brain and the rest of the body. Why and how this amyloid gets deposited is not known for sure, though there are lots of theories regarding the pathogenesis, which is though to be an abnormal protein metabolism. Such amyloid deposits are also associated with many hereditary and genetic diseases as well.
Scientists are on the look out for medications that could arrest the amyloid deposition and stop the onset of Alzheimer's. The effect of female hormones, oestrogens, anti-inflammatory drugs and a number of other drugs are being investigated.
Another interesting finding in patients with the disease is that they have low levels of acetylcholine in their brains. Acetylcholine is the most important neurotransmitter chemical that helps in transmitting messages and signals between the nerve cells of the brain.
A few drugs belonging to the class of cholinesterase inhibitors like Precept and Exeo, which increase the acetyl choline levels have been developed. These medications are called cholinesterase inhibitors. They do not stop the primary pathophysiological changes, but they do help in augmenting the mental facilities in the patients.
Mental deterioration is also seen with increasing age, known as senile dementia. This is caused by the normal ageing process whereby the blood vessels supplying the brain cells narrow down and there are repeated, small and often unrecognized cut off of blood supply(known as infarcts or strokes) to the brain cells. These also mimic Alzheimer's and can also occur earlier if the patients suffer from uncontrolled diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, increased blood pressure, and stress.
Scientists have found proof that those people who continuously exercise their mind through various mental activities regenerate new neurons in the brain, thus reducing the chances of memory loss and decline in old age and before. An exciting recent advancement in preventing or prolonging the onset of dementias is the concept of Neurobics.
Acetylcholine is also the transmitter between the nerve cells and the muscle cells in the body. When acetyl choline is released at a neuro-muscular junction, it crosses a tiny space (synapse) that separates the nerve from the muscle. It then binds to acetylcholine receptor molecules on the muscle fibre's surface. This initiates a chain of events that lead to muscle contraction.
Scientists have shown that each muscle fibre contains a scaffold made of special proteins that hold these acetylcholine receptors in place. Research led by Jeff W. Lichtman, M.D., Ph.D., at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, indicates that a loss of nerve signals - due to inactivity - actually disassembles this scaffold and causes a loss of acetylcholine receptors. When the muscle becomes active again, however, the scaffold tightens its grip and catches any receptors that come by.
This finding that actual muscle cell activity (known as exercise, of course) stimulates the acetyl choline receptors to re-assemble has thrown up exciting possibilities in preventing the development of dementia. The stimulant activity that occurs in the neuro-muscular synapses could be duplicated at the nerve synapses connecting the neuronal cells in the brain as well!
It is well known that during our life time we utilize only a small part of our brain cells. There are lots of inactive brain tissue and neuronal junctions out there just waiting for us to activate, nurture and develop!
How to activate and nourish these under-utilized brain cells?
Neurobics is a unique system developed by Lawrence C.Katz, professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Centre. These are a series of innovative brain exercises that make use of our five senses and the emotional sixth sense to brush up brain and neuronal activity on both sides of the brain.Usually right handed people utilize left side of brain for all their conscious, voluntary activities.
The brain exercises devised by Prof.Katz help stimulate the release and uptake of acetyl choline and other neuro-transmitters both at muscular and neuronals junctions in the body and the brain.
The advantage of Neurobics.
Without spending a cent, you can keep your mental capabilities at top gear and postpone the development of senile or premature dementias as in Alzheimer's.
Another advantage of Neurobics is that these can be done at any place, any time, at our own leisure pleasure. We can also create original and creative "brain exercises" to activate our underused nerve pathways and brain connections and make it an enjoyable exercise all day long!
Here are a few brain exercises (Neurobics) you can practice daily:
1. Use more than one of your senses in an everyday task:
Button your shirt and cuff links with your eyes closed.
In the shower, spread the foam on your body with eyes closed.
While eating use visual signals to communicate.
2. Combine two of your senses while doing a task:
Feel the fragrance of a flower, see the beauty of the flower and listen to music at the same time.
Close your eyes, listen to the rain outside and run your fingers alongside the chair, table or your clothes and feel the texture of the wood and the textile.
Watch the scenery from the balcony and do clay modelling at the same time.
3. Alter the beaten path!
Take a new route to your office.
Brush your teeth with your opposite hand.
Shop at a new grocery.
Use a different hand on your mouse!
4. Reading, Chess, Sudoku and Crosswords
Reading, doing crossword puzzles or play Yahtzee, playing scrabble or chess etc are all very good brain neuronal stimulants.
A new hobby or learning a new language will also exercise your brain. Watch less TV though, instead of putting your mind in forward drive, your brain will go into neutral during the soaps.
Playing bingo has been found to bolster memory and improve hand eye coordination in the elderly.
5. Refresh yourself in the morning by a wake up call to the brain and the body.
Skin of our feet, soles, hands and palms have got millions of nerve endings and nerve pathways the muscles underneath. These nerve pathways are also in communication with most of your internal organs. Hence it is very essential to wake them up after a night's restful sleep or after sitting or driving for a prolonged period of time.
Here is what you can do:
Before getting up from the bed, start moving your toes, especially the great toe. Flex them, extend them, stretch them and wriggle them.
Slowly rub and massage your toes up the other feet
Do the same with your fingers also
This activity will not only stimulate your brain and nerve pathways, it will also make you feel cool, refreshed and energetic to start the day on a positive note. It will also reduce early morning falls in the elderly as the muscles have got their grip even before getting up from the bed..
Keep your brain busy! It will not let you down!