If you, like me, were taught in science class that we were born with all the neurons our brains would ever have and it was all downhill from there, you need to read this book. The author is an award-winning neuroscientist and one of the people responsible for overturning those old-fashioned notions of an unchanging brain. His research on cochlear implants and other brain plasticity discoveries have earned him nearly 100 patents!
Far from being a boring account of all his research, this book uses fascinating examples of real-life people to bring to life some pretty compelling theories on how our brains can and do change throughout our lives.
How's this for a great quote: "There are things that are left unfulfilled, unmastered unlearned in almost every adult life. As we grow older, we have an increasingly clear understanding of what we would really enjoy spending more time doing. What things in your life remain unexplored and undone Your plastic brain is waiting for you to take greater advantage of your potential for further personal development."
The book explains the science behind how our brains grow and learn using lay terms that I found easy to follow and understand. Some of the most interesting passages for me were the ones in which he gets into how negative reinforcement can powerfully remodel our brains -- backwards!-- as we age. For instance, how if we start to be fearful of falling, and start walking more slowly, looking down instead of up, we get less data from our surroundings, which makes it more likely we will fall! And if we keep turning the TV up to hear better, it actually degrades our hearing!
"It is tremendously destructive for you to tell yourself that 'you can't,' if, in fact, succeeding just requires a little more serious effort and practice on your part. Your brain registers all of that negative messaging. When you tell your brain 'I can't' just a little too often, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."
According to Dr. Merzenich, simply "staying active" by doing things we are already good at, like playing golf or even doing crossword puzzles, is not going to help our brain health. He explains the physical changes that happen in the areas of the brain that become inactive through disuse as we age, leading to senile dementia and Alzheimer's Disease. The science isn't quite there yet, but he says there are strong indications that if we engage our brains in ways that assure our higher brain functions don't start to go "off line" in the first place, we might be able to prevent dementia and even Alzheimers Disease.
"The brain is a learning machine. it is begging for new learning. Especially past the midpoint of life, most adult individuals are feeding it nothing but the same old stuff."
He goes on to explain that content acquisition is not the same as learning and will not keep our brains healthy. Our brains need surprises, they need cobblestone streets, not smooth tile. We need contact with nature, not hours in a gym that is the same every day. Dr. Merzenich gives a long list of free and simple ways we can reorganize our everyday lives to achieve improved brain fitness. And at the very end of the book, there is a pitch for an online brain fitness program developed by Dr. Merzenich called Brain HQ.
If challenge anyone to read this book and not change the way you take care of your brain!