The other morning, I heard a report on NPR’s Morning Edition. The subject was senior moments—what they mean, when to worry, and what to do about them.
The reporter spoke with Dr. David Bennett, who directs the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. After 16 years of studying thousands of samples of postmortem brain tissue, Dr. Bennett has concluded that “a lot of people have a little bit of Alzheimer’s.” Even among those who showed no symptoms, he said, “It’s hard not to have at least a little bit of Alzheimer’s pathology.”
While he recognizes this knowledge “could frighten a lot of people,” Bennett sees in the finding both a positive and an opportunity:
The positive is many people clearly are able to tolerate “a little bit of Alzheimer’s” in their brains—or even more than a little bit.
The opportunity comes in the form of building a cognitive reserve—that is, extra brain capacity that compensates for whatever damage accumulates from whichever cause, be it illness or injury.
“I think of cognitive reserve like the side streets when there’s an accident on the expressway,” Bennett says. “Everything comes to a dead stop, and you get off and you meander through the side streets, and you can actually get to your destination.”
What this emphasizes is the importance for all of us of being proactive in protecting our brain health.
Both physical exercise and brain exercise are two ways to build up that cognitive reserve, so, let’s get to it! There is too much at stake to sit on the sidelines!