Most studies show that cognitive decline starts when we are in our mid- 20s. Motor skills and reaction times, an important measure of the speed of our nervous system’s ability to process information, slow with age. But each of us has the ability to improve our mental functions, remain alert and develop our brain power all the way into our 80s and 90s. An exciting new discovery in the 90s was that the brain has the capacity to regenerate and grow new brain cells throughout life—a process called “neurogenesis”
More than half of people in the United States report that they have been touched by someone (living or deceased) who has Alzheimer’s disease, and roughly a third of Americans are worried about getting Alzheimer’s (www.alzheimersreadingroom.com). Statistics released in May 2013 from the Alzheimer’s Association report that 1 in 3 American seniors die with the mind destroying disease of Al- zheimer’s or another form of dementia.
ADD or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorders) affects 4-5% of adults in the USA (8 million people) and affects 3% to 10% of children in the USA. It’s estimated that 60% of those children will continue to have symptoms that affect their functioning as adults.
“Neuroplasticity” has also been mentioned frequently in the news. Neuroplasticity means that the brain has the ability to change and rewire itself, to be plastic and develop new neural connections among the synapses. The brain retains this ability to change throughout the aging process. Even though our reaction times slow, we often become more thoughtful and make wiser decisions as we mature.
For most baby boomers, memory isn’t as sharp as it once was, but other cognitive functions can be sharper than ever. Maybe now and then, we can’t remember where we put the car keys or enter a room forgetting why we went there and have to retrace our steps back to where we started from to remember.
But those of us who have learned emotional self-management skills and how to listen to our heart often experience our problem-solving abilities and discernment becoming more keen and refined as we age
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Neuroplasticity studies have shown that many brain functions which were thought to be fixed, such as working memory, are now understood to be trainable at any age. We can enhance the speed of information processes and the coordination of that information.
We can sharpen our memory and become more creative and discerning. We can learn how to sustain positive emotional states and enhance our intuitive intelligence to provide us with a more positive outlook at any age.
Heartfelt positive emotions are a tonic for the mind/brain processes. They are like a salve that smooth the transits and provide warm hearted textures that make life worth living. Who doesn’t want to enjoy more love, care, compassion, kindness, and gratitude?
These positive emotions are not just wonderful feelings; they are like heart oil to the brain and nervous system, creating more ease and flow through life and they give us more access to our higher brain capacities. We will discuss the physiology of how love and positive emotions affect our heart’s rhythms and how these rhythms have profound effects on our mental functions in Part II.