Protecting and promoting brain health in aging
Renowned researcher and educator Janet Dubinsky, PhD, led an interactive workshop on “Neuroplasticity in aging” that was well attended by UMRA members and guests on November 9, 2022. Dubinsky is a professor in the U of M Medical School Department of Neuroscience and founder and director of BrainU, a professional development program for secondary school science teachers.
She began the workshop with a brief audience questionnaire to ask attendees about their current activities for protecting brain health. She then provided an animated video that reviewed the basics of neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity has to do with the ability of neurons, the basic functional cell of the brain, to talk with each other, through electrical and chemical signals, via pathways that can grow with use—or become reduced with disuse. Synapses, the junctions between the neurons that allow these signals to pass from one neuron to another, are essential to learning and memory. Contrary to popular belief, losing neurons is not a major occurrence with aging. Loss of synapses, however, is associated with aging, but it can be reversed with brain “exercises” that promote synaptic growth. While the formation of new synapses slows with aging, it is still possible and does occur. Some examples include stroke recovery, improved balance, motility, and memory.
Dubinsky then went on to discuss activities that promote synaptic growth. Appropriate sleep is a cornerstone of brain health, allowing the brain to rid itself of waste, particularly during slow-wave sleep. Sleep is also permissive of memory development.
One of the activities that activates multiple areas of the brain is having social interactions, particularly when accompanied with experiences like hiking, card playing, and traveling. Other activities like problem solving, putting puzzles together, reading, and exercising also are beneficial.
When asked what type of exercise she would recommend, Dubinsky said, “More than whatever you are currently doing!”
Dubinsky then repeated her question to the audience “How do you plan to ‘take care’ of your brain moving forward?” and the results were impressive, perhaps because of the various activities that UMRA provides access to.
—Frank Cerra, UMRA past president
Neuroplasticity in aging
Wed, November 9 2022, 11am
Janet M. Dubinsky, Ph.D.
Professor of neuroscience
U of M Department of Neuroscience
Event to be held via Zoom.
Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain, at any age, to rewire itself to function in new ways in situations of new learning, experience, or injury. This remarkable ability of the brain to be flexible, in both structure and function, to make new connections and adapt to the circumstances of life, will be the topic for discussion when Janet M. Dubinsky, Ph.D., joins us for UMRA’s Living Well Workshop at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, November 9, via Zoom.
Dubinsky is a well-known neuroscientist and community educator and a professor of neuroscience in the University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Neuroscience.
And in the spirit of learning new things, she will use ChimeIn—a web-based tool for collecting comments during a webinar—to interact with us during the program. Instructions and the link for using ChimeIn (optional, not required) will be emailed in advance to everyone who registers for the webinar.
In addition to her position in the Medical School, Dubinsky is a leader in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience (GPN), teaches undergraduate and graduate neuroscience, and is the founder of the BrainU professional development program. She has led and is currently a member of the GPN Public Engagement Committee, which runs Brain Awareness Week and the high school neuroscience competition Minnesota Brain Bee.
Dubinsky is a major contributor to knowledge generation in the metabolism and physiology of the brain, with particular attention to metabolic abnormalities present in Huntington’s Disease. She is also internationally known for her research on the impact of neuroscience knowledge on teaching. At the U of M, her work and teaching have been recognized with the Outstanding Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education Award in 2011, and the CBS Stanley Dagley-Samuel Kirkwood Undergraduate Education Award in 2020–21.
In her teaching, Dubinsky helps students at all levels achieve and understand neuroplasticity. This workshop will be a unique opportunity for us to benefit from her great knowledge and gifts as an educator.
Please register and join us on Wednesday, November 9, for what is certain to be a fascinating, enlightening, and engaging presentation.
—Frank Cerra, M.D., UMRA past president
Want to try ChimeIn before the webinar? Go to https://chimein2.cla.umn.edu/join/741704 and respond to the open question(s).
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