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  • Patricia Faust

The Prevailing Myths About Brain Health



I decided we all needed a break from the constant news about COVID-19 so, I wrote something a little lighter. Actually, it is a compilation of different articles about the myths of brain health. It was sort of fun to see what myths people focused on as they wrote their articles.

Myth: We use only 10 percent of our brain.

This was the myth that made every article! I wrote about this many years ago for an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer. It seems that people are still asking this question.

The fact is – through MRI studies, it was found that our brains are active most of the time. In the course of the day you use just about every part of it.

Myth: You are dominated by your right or left brain.

This myth goes on and on throughout the years. Our brains do have a right hemisphere and a left hemisphere. The myth goes like this: The left brain is more verbal. It is analytical and orderly. It takes in small details and then puts them together to understand the whole picture. The right brain is more visual and deals in images more than words. It processes information in an intuitive and simultaneous manner. It takes in the big picture, and then looks at the details. Some say that it is the artsy, creative side of the brain.

After a two-year study, a team of neuroscientists found no evidence to prove this theory. Brain scans showed that humans don’t favor one hemisphere over the other. Both sides contribute something to logical and creative thinking.

Myth: Your brain function declines as you get older.

This is a good news/bad news answer. First the bad news: cognitive function does decline as we get older. Our brains lose their distraction filters and paying attention to what you want to remember becomes more difficult. There are certain brain functions that increase with aging. Crystallized intelligence increases as you get older. This is the ability to use all of your accumulated knowledge and experience to solve a problem. Vocabulary, comprehension, conflict resolution and emotional regulation are just a few areas in which older brains can perform better than their younger counterparts.

Myth: Male and female brains differ in ways that dictate learning abilities and intelligence.

There were a couple of interesting views of this myth. Differences do exist in the brains of men and women, though not necessarily to the extent that one is better equipped better than the other. Neuroscientists continue to study the important differences between the brains of women and men. It is important to take a broad view here. Each of us have our own hardwiring. It is part of the genetics we inherited from our ancestors. With a healthy brain we are all capable of learning, remembering, and making sense of the complex world around us.

Research has found that although some physical brain features are found more often in one sex than the other, some are found in both, and most people have a mix of brain features. Researchers found that sex differences in the brain are influenced by family. Even if male and female brains start out similar, they may become different over time as boys and girls are treated differently with different expectations.

Myth: Brain games improve your memory and reasoning skills.

There have been quite a few studies to determine if these brain games actually improve cognitive skills such as memory, attention span, use of language or ability to follow directions. The overall finding was that even though it is healthy to engage in creative thinking to stay sharp and to keep your mind agile, brain-training exercises aren’t likely to improve your overall memory or your attention span.

Myth: Your brain stops growing after childhood.

It is true that most of your brain cells are formed in the womb, but researchers have found that at least one part of your brain continues to grow cells. The hippocampus, center of learning and memory, has the capacity to grow new neurons throughout your entire life. Even in old age, the brain still produces 700 new neurons in the hippocampus per day.

Myth: Older people can’t learn new things.

Learning can happen at any age, particularly when you get involved in stimulating activities, like meeting new people or trying new hobbies. Mastering some skills , such as a new computer program, may take an older person longer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it. Even people diagnosed with cognitive decline can continue to learn new things.

We have magnificent brains. We need to be grateful for what they can do, rather than assuming there are things they can’t do.

References:

7 Myths About Brain Health. AARP the Magazine. (April/May 2020). Pg. 30.

Bonakdarpour, B. 10 Surprising facts about your brain Common brain myths debunked. Retrieved July 7, 2020 from https://www.nm.org/healthybeat/healthy-tips/ten-surprising-facts-about-your-brain

Lerner, M. (April 9, 2019). 7 Myths about your brain. Retrieved July 7, 2020, from https://extramile.thehartford.com/wellness/7-myths-about-your-brain/

Weatherspoon,D. (September 17, 2018). How much of our brain do we use? And other questions answered. Retrieved Jyly 7, 2020, from https://www.healthline.com/health/how-much-of-our-brain-do-we-use/alcohols-effect

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