The brain can repair itself and can tap into natural reserves to make up for damage caused by disease. But when these reserves are exhausted, symptoms of the disease may become more obvious. Engaging in certain activities can help you to replenish reserves and may allow you to hold on to cognitive functions such as attention and memory for longer. So how does this work?
The brain has an amazing ability to adapt and change across our lifespan. This flexibility, which is called ‘plasticity’, allows us to learn new things, adapt to changes in our lives and environment and also allows us to compensate for disease and injury.
The brain can repair itself naturally. It does this by sprouting new projections on communication cables (axons) in order to re-establish lost connections or form new ones. The brain can also co-opt undamaged areas to take over functions of damaged areas and it can even generate new neurons. ‘Neurological reserve’ describes the brain’s inbuilt (but limited) capacity to retain brain function.
Unfortunately, this capacity can’t keep pace with MS disease activity, and when reserves are exhausted clinical symptoms appear. The good news is that our lifetime experiences can replenish reserves. This typically means that people with reserves can hang on to cognitive function for longer.
Reserve 101 shares what scientists know about plasticity, brain maintenance and cognitive reserve.
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