Monday, October 15, 2007

May Your Brains Be as Bushy as Your Tails

Because we're not getting any younger and because we monitor ourselves obsessively for advanced warning signs of Alzheimer's (drooling doesn't necessarily count), this article by an AP medical reporter offered us some insight and some hope.

Turns out that a "bushy" brain is a gooder thing than a non-bushy one. From the article:
...A healthy brain is a bushy one. Branch-like tentacles extend from the ends of the brain's cells, enabling them to communicate with each other. The more you learn, the more those connections form.

Alzheimer's kills neurons, so the cells disappear along with connections their neighbors need.

With normal aging, the cells don't die but their bushes can shrivel to skinny twigs, explained Dr. Carol Barnes of the University of Arizona. Cells that are less connected have a harder time sending messages. You may know someone's name, but not be able to recall it.

Happens to us on a daily basis. We see someone coming our way whom we've known for three decades, but their name doesn't arrive with them. Uh-oh, we think. Alzheimer's.

No, just barer twigs where flower and fruit used to hang.

Turns out that brain bushiness may be maintained as much by physical exercise as by anything else, which is one of the reasons we keep dogs. Parker Posie and Annie Doo require -- no, demand -- a three-miler every day of the year. Though we're not always ecstatic to comply, we're always glad that we've gone on those walks.

The other recommended exercise is mental ... crossword puzzles. About which we confess that we have become increasingly obsessed in our old age. Tell us to eat more gooseberries, and we'd probably do that too. Though with less enjoyment.

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