Can the brain shrinkage that happens to us with aging be reversed? Can we actually grow back our brain and boost our memory in our 60s and 70s? The answers seem to be yes and yes. A new research study published today in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease has provided the first proof of concept for the fact that elderly have the capacity to increase the volume of the hippocampus, the thumb-sized pair of brain structures that are ground zero for memory and learning. Dr. Fotuhi, the medical director of the NeuroGrow Brain Fitness Center, and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins and UCLA enrolled 127 elderly patients who had a diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment in their 12-week Brain Fitness Program. Patients first underwent a head-to-toe evaluation to determine ALL the causes for their cognitive decline; they were checked for everything from sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety to thyroid disease, vitamin efficiency, or medication side effects. They also underwent brain MRI, formal cognitive testing, and brain mapping EEG. They then met with Dr. Fotuhi to review their results and find out how well their brains were functioning as compared to other people at their age. Once they learned the specific causes for the decline in their brainpower can be treated or reversed, they were excited to begin a boot camp to reboot their brain.
They received three sets of intervention for 5 hours a week over three months. Their personalized treatment protocol included one-on-one training for cognitive stimulation, meditation training, stress reduction breathing techniques, counseling for diet and exercise, and a new science-based intervention called neurofeedback. With this form of biofeedback, patients can see their own brain waves on the computer screen, in a form of an interactive brain game, and get rewarded every time their brain pattern inches toward a state of being calm and focused. Week after week, they could see for themselves how they felt more relaxed, happier, and sharper. At the end of 12 weeks, they repeated their baseline tests. Results showed that 84% of patients had gained statistically significant improvements in their memory, attention, focus, or other aspects of brain function. MRI results revealed that 53% of patients had literally grown the volume of their hippocampus, to a level of someone who is 2 to 18 years younger – within three months. Some patients had a repeat MRI one year later and the expansion in their brain size appeared to have either sustained or improved further.
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