I aim for high cognitive reserve!

A friend suggested I enrol on a free online course called understanding dementia, run by the University of Tasmania. http://www.utas.edu.au/wicking/wca/mooc

So far, I have completed two out of the total nine weeks and done the basic introductory sessions – and if knowledge really is power, then I’m definitely feeling more powerful! That’s to say, I’m finding it much easier to deal with mum’s lack of short term memory now I understand about the hippocampus – the section of the brain concerned with memory formation. It helps people order things that happen during the day and contextualise events.

So now, when mum asks me a question for the umpteenth time, I visualise her hippocampus malfunctioning. This intellectual understanding has helped me to keep my cool. I understand there is a physiological reason why she can’t remember what I’ve been telling her for several hours. I understand she really can’t hold a thought because a certain part of her brain is collapsing (well there’s probably a more scientific way of putting it).

When I had to state my reasons for doing the course I wrote: my father died of vascular dementia, my mother is increasingly confused – and I want to be able to recognise the warning signs for myself! I haven’t yet got to that part of the course, but I already know I must develop a ‘high cognitive reserve’. As I understand it, this means creating new pathways for information to flow between neurons, because the more alternatives you have, the greater the chance the brain can find other ways to pass information between cells if it becomes damaged by dementia.

Neurons in the brain build connections, adapt and develop as we learn new skills. Things like learning languages – or doing a course of study – are ways of creating a cognitive reserve. With this in mind, I decided to start speaking to mum in French – just simple phrases such as ‘I’m on my way’ or ‘do you want a cup of tea?’. She studied French when she was at school, in the early 1930’s, and amazingly she does still remember some of it and quite likes that she can work out what I’m saying. And it’s actually making those boring daily task more fun for me too.

A la prochaine!

6 thoughts on “I aim for high cognitive reserve!

  1. How absolutely wonderful that you have found this terrific resource! Understanding what is happening in any situation makes it easier to manage and this course seems to be providing that. I’m sure other frazzled carers could find it very useful too. And what a brilliant idea to start speaking in French – fun for you, introducing some variety into every day humdrum – and helpful to your mum too. You are an imaginative resourceful person already and now you have a new resource which is helping to reinvigorate your reserves. What good news x

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  2. What a clever idea about the French; helping your mum *and* yourself. You’re amazing; I’m repeatedly admiring of your creative reserve, not to mention your cognitive reserve! I wonder if I could take that course; I will check to see if it is open to Americans. I’ve read many places that learning a new language is a phenomenal way to build new neural connections; certainly, when I was studying Latin two years ago, I could *feel* neurons exploding! Oh wait…is that good or bad?! LOL (((BIGHUG))) and (((BountifulBlessings)))

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