Archive for Social Stimulation

10 Facts You Need to Know to Promote and Harness Neuroplasticity

Due to the limitations of pharmacological approaches to dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, scientists are relying more on non-pharmacological treatment plans, such as cognitive therapy, as a way to help delay the onset and slow the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline. Non-pharmacological interventions are based on the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize connections in the brain, create new connections and even create new neurons under some circumstances. Generally, neuroplasticity occurs in two instances: as a result of learning and experience or a result of damage to the brain.

The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is based heavily on the concept of neuroplasticity and takes advantage of the brain’s ability to create new connections by engaging 5 cognitive domains with activities. Below, we have compiled 10 important facts that you need to know in order to promote neuroplasticity in your day-to-day life for better brain health!

  1. Neuroplasticity is real, and it is more important than our genes. Neuroplasticity is a lifelong process and has far greater effects on our brain’s outcome than genes do.
  2. All physical exercise promotes brain function, but cardio is king. Exercising increases blood flow, brain volume and growth hormone levels, especially if it really gets the heart pumping. We recommend 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day, four days a week.
  3. Mental stimulation helps build cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is the brain’s protective mechanism that helps delay symptoms of cognitive decline, so engaging the brain helps protect it over the long-term.
  4. Overall brain health depends upon working a variety of brain functions. It is not enough to engage only our memory or attention; we need an assortment of activities to keep our brains healthy, which is why the Method targets five domains.
  5. Routines don’t challenge the brain, so try something new or increase the level of difficulty. Activities should be challenging enough where they can be fun, but still engaging. Try alternating between Sudoku and crossword puzzles to work on and improve different skills.
  6. A bigger, more complex social network has been correlated with a bigger amygdala. This area of the brain is responsible for emotion and behavior. Those with bigger social circles are also less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness.
  7. A Mediterranean diet can improve brain health and has the potential to reduce shrinkage. The assortment of fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil have proven to protect the brain against cognitive decline.
  8. Chronic stress can block neuroplasticity. Under extreme stress, we have all noticed lapses in memory or attention to detail. It is important to promote calm and focus for optimal brain health.
  9. No one solution works! A multi-pronged approach works best, so include a healthy diet, exercise regimen, social schedule and mentally engaging activities in your plan.
  10. In addition, know your limits. A professional caregiver or Cognitive Therapeutics Interventionist can help you create a brain health plan that fits your unique needs and preferences!

To learn more about neuroplasticity and ways to proactively boost brain health, read The Brain Boost: A Practical Guide to Brain Health, one of the award-winning books in Home Care Assistance’s Healthy Longevity Series.


New Study on Self-Motivation

senior using neurofeedback trainingSelf-motivation is key to healthy aging; we need motivation to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly and engage our brains by learning something new. A recent study shows that there may be ways we can train our brains to improve our self-motivation.

Scientists know that neurons that are essential to motivation are located in an area of the brain known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA). This area is located deep in the middle of the brain and is involved in the reward and pleasure circuits. In a recent study published in the journal Neuron, scientists from Duke University asked people to activate their VTA by focusing on feelings of motivation.

For the study, 73 participants were asked to go into an fMRI machine which scans the brain and detects which areas are most active. Participants were then asked to generate feelings of motivation using their personal strategies during 20-second intervals. The participants were unable to simply activate this area of the brain on command.

The researchers then used neurofeedback, a training method where they show a meter displaying the activity in a specific brain region – in this case, the VTA – in real time. Now that participants were able to see the meter move as an indicator of brain activation, they quickly learned which self-motivation strategies worked while they laid in the fMRI.

The research team saw great success in participants who used the neurofeedback training. Participants thought about pep talks, high-fiving a room full of people and other motivational scenarios to get the meter to move. Although exhilarating, some say it was exhausting to focus all their energy on one intense emotional experience.

For participants that underwent the neurofeedback training, they were able to activate their VTAs after removing the meter by thinking of the same situations they had before. While the study does not test whether neurofeedback can change long-term behavior after the fMRI sessions, the team hopes that this research may someday be used as a clinical tool to help train people to become more self-motivated. And because of VTA’s role in the reward circuits and dopamine production, the team sees potential for the neurofeedback training to help those with ADHD or those recovering from drug addictions.

In the meantime, find ways to motivate yourself so that you can make choices to stay active and healthy. For more information on the latest research in brain health, visit


Singing Proves Beneficial in Early Stages of Dementia

senior singing

Many experience that a familiar tune can jog an old memory, which is why music is often used as a type of therapy for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. A recent study by the University of Helsinki in Finland looked more in-depth at the benefits of music and found that singing – as opposed to simply listening to music – can boost the brain function of individuals in the early stages of dementia.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, split 89 people with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers into three separate groups: one group underwent a music intervention program involving singing, another group underwent an intervention involving listening to familiar songs, and the last group received only standard care with their caregiver and no music intervention. All three of the programs ran for ten weeks. To see who benefited the most from each type of intervention, the researchers evaluated the cause of dementia, the impact of the dementia’s severity, the individual’s age, care situation and previous musical hobbies.

They found that singing was the most beneficial for working memory, which is used to retain new information, executive function, which includes reasoning and judgment, and orientation. They also found that it worked best for individuals with mild dementia who were eighty years old or younger. Listening to familiar songs was only associated with cognitive benefits in individuals with advanced dementia, while both singing and listening to music together were the most effective at alleviating depression in participants with mild dementia.

Interestingly, the participants’ previous musical hobbies had no effect on how well the music intervention programs worked, so people from a variety of musical backgrounds could benefit from the power of music, making it widely applicable. The research team hopes that these results will support the notion that musical activities can be easily used in Alzheimer’s and dementia care as well as memory care facilities. Singing has proven to be a very engaging way for individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia to maintain their memory and other important cognitive functions.

Along with exercise, a balanced diet, and social activities, singing can be a fun way to boost your mood and strengthen your memory. Whether you are in the shower, in the car or at home, sing your favorite songs — involve kids or grandkids and make it an event! We recommend karaoke, which is a great way to exercise your vocal chords and your brain while having fun. Happy singing!


Brain Health an Important Focus for U.S. Army

On Veterans’ Day, it is of great significance to honor the men and women who have bravely served our country. It is also critical to focus on the health and well-being of those that currently serve or will serve in the armed forces. The Institute of Land Warfare panel at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting discussed Soldiers’ health, highlighting what they call the “human dimension” and the importance of brain health.

Panel at the Association of the United States Army annual meeting
From left to right: Major General Eric Wendt, commander of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho, and Lieutenant General Robert Brown.

Developed by the Army, the human dimension concept shifts the focus from having the latest technology or weapon to developing the mental, physical and social well-being of Soldiers and military leaders so that they are healthy and resilient on the battlefield. Lieutenant General Robert Brown, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and chair of the event, said, “Equipment can be adapted to changing situations, but not as quickly as the Soldier. As a result, how Soldiers are educated, trained, organized and developed as leaders are critical to the future of the Army.”

Army Surgeon General Lieutenant General Patricia Horoho emphasized the need for brain health. “We have to focus on the healthy brain,” General Horoho said. “We have to enable the Soldier to be agile and flexible in split second decision making.”
Performance Triad
General Horoho also emphasized the Performance Triad, which focuses on quality sleep, physical activity, and improved nutrition. The first leg of the Performance Triad, quality sleep, is important because the brain recovers and restores function during this time, optimizing performance and reducing the risk of injuries. Physical exercise, the second component of the Performance Triad, is critical for learning new tasks as it contributes to the development of new brain cells. The final part of the triad is nutrition; General Horoho suggests creating nutrition plans for Soldiers in environmental extremes, where weight loss and fatigue can be critical issues.

The strength of our Soldiers’ and military leaders’ cognitive functioning and physical capabilities are of critical importance. While staying cognitively healthy, maintaining quality sleep, exercising regularly and having a healthy diet is important for Soldiers, these tips also apply to anyone for optimizing functioning.



“Performance Triad.” Performance Triad. U.S. Army, n.d. Web.

Wolf, Ronald. “ARMY.MIL, The Official Homepage of the United States Army.” Human Dimension: Army Medicine Part of Culture Change. U.S. Army, 22 Oct. 2014. Web.

Wolf, Ronald. “Army Medicine Part of Culture Change – Living – Fort Hood Sentinel.” Army Medicine Part of Culture Change – Living – Fort Hood Sentinel. Fort Hood Sentinel, 30 Oct. 2014. Web.

Animal Therapy: Social Interaction Without Judgement

Cute PuppySocial Interaction has been proven to be an essential part of keeping mentally fresh when facing dementia.  Often times the problem that arises with socializing with progressed dementia is not being able to remember the people or topics you are discussing or the reactions from the others to the lost memory.  By their nature, animals are non-judgmental and can offer unconditional positive regard to the person, regardless of their ability to remember meeting the animal before or being able to hold lengthy conversations.  Social needs for those with dementia can often be fulfilled or supplemented by animal assisted therapy or a family pet due to this natural ability to not show disappointment.  As long as there is someone around to take care of the pet’s needs such as walking, feeding and vet visits, a pet can be a wonderful part of life for a person with dementia.  For those who do not have the resources to have someone take care of the pet, animal therapy groups or volunteers can come to bring therapy animals for visits in order to help reduce agitation, provide social connections and bring joy to the person.

A few noted positive outcomes to pet visits that have been found is an increased appetite, lower blood pressure, and an easy conversation topic with other people that provides a stress reduction in social situations.  A side benefit to having a therapy animal visit is the physical interaction that is acceptable with an animal that the person just met, and the tactile stimulation of stroking or petting the animal.  Depending on the person’s mobility, a dog can also provide a source of exercise.

Sometimes a live animal is not an option for a person with allergies, or who cannot care for the pet on their own or does not have access to animal assisted therapy.  For these people, studies have shown robotic animals to provide a similar social benefit, especially later in the progression of the dementia.  One of the most noted types of robotic animal interaction is Paro, the robotic seal.  Paro is a robotic animal that interacts with the person but also learns so it can respond to the person’s specific behaviors.  Also previously studied was the use of a stuffed animal for very late stage dementia, at which point the social ability is so diminished that a response from the animal is not necessary to see a benefit from the social company.



Seniors in the City

A growing number of retirees want to live out their golden years in the bustling neighborhood of a city. With good public transit, lots of shops and restaurants, and plenty of cultural activities to keep them busy, a city offers seniors many opportunities to maintain their active lifestyles while living at home.

Fortunately, various industries are working to make city-living easier for one of our largest retiree generations in US history.

The housing industry is undeniably a major player. Surveys have found that more and more retirees want to continue living in their homes close to downtowns, mostly because they want to keep working. Towns like Parker, CO are building cohousing communities for seniors in the downtown area, with 40 condominium-style apartments expected to finish next year. These surveys also highlighted an interesting fact, that young working professionals and older adults share common values in living in the city. Small, comfortable apartments near downtown are attractive to the young professionals who work there, and older adults who want to live independently but with accessibility to guidance close by. The Lennar Corporation, one of the biggest builders in the country, began offering multigenerational homes near downtowns in California and Arizona; these are first-floor apartments that young people can use at first, and then be taken over by an older generation, such as their parents.

Another sector stepping in to help is the tech industry. Engineers are making home sensors, alarms, and communication devices more intuitive and easier to operate, providing care remotely while reassuring family members. The concept of “telecare” – a balance between nursing homes and independent living – is starting to emerge in places across the country. In Lafayette, IN, a company called Rest Assured installs sensors and communication devices in the home, and train staff to monitor them from their offices.

Improvement in public transit is also key. Cincinnati, OH and Grand Rapids, MI are among the dozens of US cities building better rail and bus lines for older adults who cannot drive and young professionals commuting to work. The desire for good public transportation is yet another common interest among young and old.

“We already know that in a decade there won’t be enough caregivers to help the number of retirees that need support. We’re finding other ways to interact and provide care. That involves new technology. It also involves new ways to organize ourselves in neighborhoods and new relationships with people to provide care,” says John P. Reinhart, president of a research and marketing group called InnovateLTC in Louisville, KY.

All these efforts demonstrate that businesses, like the housing, technology, and transportation industries, are eager to help retirees avoid having to up and move away from the environment they have grown to love. Because, like Dorothy says, there’s no place like home, even if your home is in the heart of the city.