5 Ways to Build an Alzheimer’s-Resistant Brain: Neuroscientist Lisa Genova Explains

Though not eas­i­ly dealt with in main­stream enter­tain­ment, Alzheimer’s dis­ease has inspired pop­u­lar works of fic­tion. Take the 2007 nov­el Still Alice by Lisa Gen­o­va, lat­er adapt­ed into a fea­ture film star­ring Julianne More. As a neu­ro­sci­en­tist, Gen­o­va brought an under­stand­ing of the sub­ject by no means com­mon among nov­el­ists in gen­er­al. Since her debut she has pub­lished four more nov­els, all of them built around char­ac­ters suf­fer­ing from neu­ro­log­i­cal impair­ments of one kind or anoth­er. But her lat­est book, last year’s Remem­ber: The Sci­ence of Mem­o­ry and the Art of For­get­ting, is a work of non­fic­tion, and in the video above she dis­cuss­es a few of its points about how to build an “Alzheimer’s-resis­tant brain.”

After briefly explain­ing the bio­log­i­cal process­es behind Alzheimer’s (and assur­ing her old­er view­ers that their day-to-day for­get­ful­ness is prob­a­bly noth­ing to wor­ry about), Gen­o­va offers five ways to ward off their effects. The first is sleep­ing, which gives glial cells, “the jan­i­tors of your brain,” time to clear away the amy­loid plaque that sets the dis­ease in motion if left to accu­mu­late.

Keep­ing a Mediter­ranean diet — full of “green leafy veg­eta­bles, the bright­ly col­ored fruits and berries, fat­ty fish­es, nuts, beans, olive oils” — has sim­i­lar­ly salu­tary effects. So does engag­ing in reg­u­lar exer­cise, which also comes with the ben­e­fit of reduc­ing chron­ic stress, a con­di­tion that inhibits the for­ma­tion of neu­rons involved in mak­ing new mem­o­ries.

Gen­o­va names yoga, med­i­ta­tion, mind­ful­ness, and “being with peo­ple” as oth­er ele­ments of an Alzheimer’s-resis­tant life. But she saves for last the strat­e­gy per­haps most rel­e­vant to Open Cul­ture read­ers. “If you’ve lived a life where you’re cog­ni­tive­ly active, you’re reg­u­lar­ly learn­ing new things. You are build­ing what we call a ‘cog­ni­tive reserve.’ Every time you learn some­thing new, you’re build­ing new synaps­es.” All the neur­al con­nec­tions thus estab­lished will help you “dance around those road­blocks” put up by the ear­ly effects of Alzheimer’s or oth­er dele­te­ri­ous men­tal con­di­tions. This means that no mat­ter how young you are, you’ll ben­e­fit lat­er from form­ing the habit of learn­ing new things on a dai­ly basis. As for which new things you learn — 1,700 free cours­es worth of which we’ve gath­ered here — that’s entire­ly up to you.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Yoga Changes the Brain and May Guard Against Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

How Music Can Awak­en Patients with Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

For­mer Bal­le­ri­na with Demen­tia Grace­ful­ly Comes Alive to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

The French Vil­lage Designed to Pro­mote the Well-Being of Alzheimer’s Patients: A Visu­al Intro­duc­tion to the Pio­neer­ing Exper­i­ment

The Restau­rant of Mis­tak­en Orders: A Tokyo Restau­rant Where All the Servers Are Peo­ple Liv­ing with Demen­tia

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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