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.
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.