Hunger, desocialization, threat to life.” What can make our brain evolve

Neurologist Igor Voznyuk told why it is so difficult to learn something new after 50 year

How does the human brain change throughout life? Why are we able to learn easily before the age of 20, but closer to 50 we need strong motivation for this, such as hunger, desocialization or a threat to life? Can anyone really train their brain by doing 10 minutes of crossword puzzles every day? This was stated in an interview with Gazeta.Ru by the Chief Freelance Neurologist of the Health Committee of St. Petersburg and the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation for the North-Western Federal District, Professor of the Department of Neurology of the First St. Petersburg State Medical University. I.P. Pavlov Igor Voznyuk.


– The brain is rather changing internally, and more often it is not an “increase” in mass, but the formation of a new functional communication path. This usually occurs if atrophy develops, there is a loss of nuclear volume or destruction of the brain tracts.

Internal changes occur throughout a person’s life. There are three main processes going on: the formation of new actual connections when goals need to be achieved, the maintenance of existing cellular structures and existing connections (restoration and “utilization”), and plastic processes to create new conditions and opportunities for performing functions in case of significant brain damage (trauma). , disease).


– Are there areas of the brain that are not able to change?

– There are areas with very high specialization, where there is a cluster of neurons, the form and function of which has been formed by the time of maturation of the brain, remaining stable throughout life. Due to their highly specific structure suited to certain tasks, these cells are difficult to replace. But there are processes in the brain that support their stability. But cells from the so-called growth zones are able to migrate and learn to maintain functions, being included in a specialized neuronal ensemble, acquiring the properties necessary for effective work in its composition.

– A French patient is known, who, as it turned out, lived with almost no convolutions. He had only a cerebral cortex, but he functioned normally. This case was analyzed at many international conferences. What is the minimum volume of the brain, in principle, you can live with – namely, to be aware of yourself, to be able to learn, work?

– The answer is fundamental: any person, if not dead, will live.A morphological defect formed from birth, or childhood, or in the process of a slowly progressing disease is always compensated by functional capabilities due to the phenomenon of CNS plasticity. The connections within even a small brain can be rich and can compensate for the deficit. The main thing is that the functional load is constant and commensurate with the capabilities, and the goals are achievable. The goal may be simply self-service or socialization, in other cases – professional activity, career. The range of function compensation is quite wide, but always very individual.

– Why is it more difficult to learn something new with age – from foreign languages ​​to, for example, boxing? Why, for example, is it easier to learn something new at 30 than at 50?

– The activity of any processes in the body, including the central nervous system, is regulated throughout life by several “strategic” systems. One of them is hormonal, and it is easier to explain everything with its example. The hormonal status during life changes in accordance with the tasks determined by nature.

“You have to grow up first!” And that requires hormones. So right?

– Yes. First, the task of the organism is the rapid development of the world and growth to maturity. This requires a huge amount of so-called growth hormones, starters, releasing factors, including a powerful trophotropic potential (ensuring the formation, maturation of body tissues and the basic regulation of all internal processes throughout life). In particular, it forms and ensures the maturation of interneuronal connections and the number of multilevel contacts (the creation of a “matrix”), as well as training the emerging network of neurons to work together.

Often, the potential, high from birth, may, under conditions of limitations (for various reasons), not lead to the formation of good mental abilities. At the same time, even a genetically compromised brain with systematic control can give a good result: a person will master many skills and so on.

What I’m saying is that the time from birth to 20 is a period of great opportunity for brain development. In the future, this “backlog” will help him out in case of illness in old age. The smarter the brain, the longer it takes to compensate for the deficiency of functions caused by the disease.


What happens in the brain after 20 years?

– After 20, a period of mature brain begins, which lasts until about 50 years. This period is almost the longest (with a life expectancy of 70-80 years). It coincides with the time of a stably working hormonal system of the body, which is necessary for childbearing. During this period, the hormonal system ensures the maintenance of the status of tissues, organs and systems, resistance to stress, resistance.

All this allows you to continue to improve the interneuronal network, to continue learning the “matrix”, for example, to achieve a higher social status. If the social status (including gender) is achieved, there is a rationalization of connections and unification of answers for standard tasks.

Why does the brain need it?

– In order not to be hindered in obtaining energy (the source is oxygen and glucose) for the performance of template processes, there are no reservoirs in the brain tissues for its accumulation and storage. New energy-intensive processes must justify the goals and be powerfully motivated. Then there will be conditions for improving the “matrix”.

— What can serve as such motivation?

– For example, a person has lost his job, his professional skills are not in demand. This can result in a loss of social status, and the family is in danger of disintegration. The way out is to master a new professional skill or improve within the framework of existing knowledge (bring up the language, work out the skills of a lecturer, learn the amount of relevant and socially significant information, etc.).

In this regard, processes become possible at the level of a network of neurons (trained cells), the processes necessary for the formation of new connections, and most importantly for recruitment in the interests of a new “goal” of well-established networks. The hormonal system provides powerful trophotropic support at this age – tissues are “juicy, elastic”, blood circulation is full, endurance is great.

Education at this age is going well, but already rational. A person (nervous system) is trying to use the accumulated patterns.

But what if you need to learn something completely new?

– Forced opportunities to master unfamiliar tasks will require a greater level of motivation, for example, the threat of starvation, desocialization, life threat. As in childhood, it will no longer work, the period of “growth” of the central nervous system is over, the work of “growth factors” of new structures is not a central biological task for the body.

But is learning still possible?

Yes, but this will require the mobilization of the entire well-built, stable system. To ensure mobilization, the potential of the upper “echelons” of the hormonal system (pituitary gland) can be demanded. “Emission” of the so-called endogenous releasing factors and peptides mobilizing the adrenergic (“emergency”) system of the brain (mediators of the basal nuclei of the deep parts of the brain), activating and providing active learning processes.

At the physiological level, everyone felt it – jitters before passing exams as students. By the way, children learn easily and without stress, since there is no “forced mobilization” in that period.

One of the main problems is the cost and duration of the period of mastering a new subject.If it exceeds in strength or time the resource of the hormonal system (providing stability), learning may stop (go into neglect) or damage (disease) will develop. These are, for example, neurosis, depression, disruption of autonomic regulation (dystonia, desynchronosis), hypertension, disruption of the hormonal organs from the thyroid gland and lower in the hierarchy (for example, thyroiditis, diabetes, disruption of the menstrual cycle in women, etc.).

And yet, learning is possible.

What happens after 50?

– In this post-childbearing age, when the biological task of procreation is not so urgent, the hormonal level drops. There is an involution of hormonal glands – their decrease in volume, replacement of cells with fat and connective tissue. By the age of 80-90, even external gender signs disappear – grandparents become similar in figure, face oval, distribution of hairline.

A decrease in hormonal activity, including adrenotropic (emergency, stress-active) is very important to fulfill this mission. The hormonal background no longer provides “juiciness and turgor”, which means that the cell membranes do not have that level of sodium-potassium potential and intercellular (including interneuronal) transmission is not so active.

Plus, against the background of atherosclerosis (hypofunction of the thyroid gland), diabetes mellitus (hypofunction of the pancreas), increased clotting (hypofunction of hematopoietic centers), the activity of the microcirculatory circulation, which brings oxygen and glucose to the brain, changes. And this is an important condition for its functioning.

New things are more difficult for older people, but, as a rule, their long-term memory remains “strong” for a long time (they remember everything that happened before).This is relevant from a biological and social point of view – they are carriers of information, “remember” and “know” all the “basic” processes and “standard” solutions, they are able to teach children and adolescents. A reduced level of adrenergic (stress) regulation is also relevant – older people are more inclined to smooth out the inevitable conflict of children and adolescents.

– It turns out that after 50 we are basically not able to learn something?

For people of this age, individual positions play an important role in mastering new skills. Some people at this age, having motivation, are able to learn and quite successfully. The potential gained in the first half of life, the nature of activities during life, and the frequency of paradigm shifts are very important – restructuring of the way of life, frequent changes in the availability of basic needs, the need for constant development of new skills.

There is a significant plus for people whose professional activities are associated with a constant learning-teaching process, especially in those professions where several information encoding formats are used at once: languages, numbers, notes, ciphers.

– It turns out that among mathematicians, musicians, translators, programmers, there should be most of all elderly people with a “clear” head?

– And it is so. These professions require a high degree of combinatorics of thinking. Therefore, the degree of compensation of functions in case of damage is the highest for them, with a “dropped out” central path, an effective collateral (bypass) path will immediately be mobilized.

But, of course, genetics is of great importance for learning: it determines the range of possibilities, in addition, a lot is decided by the personality and temperament.

There are also a number of factors that will also make learning possible or impossible: nutrition, amount of sleep, the presence or absence of a negative “dominant” at the time of learning, climatic conditions, social environment, illness.

— Now there are many so-called neurotrainers, cognitive simulators for memory, thinking, attention. Their creators just appeal to neuroplasticity – here, you will solve tasks and puzzles in a playful way for 10 minutes a day, and your brain will grow new neural connections. Such simulators can really pump some skills or is it a profanity?

— There is absolutely expediency in using neurotraining if:

– training and cognitive activities are related to actual processes in life and have a high degree of motivation for a person;
— individually and correctly organized cognitive training;
— if the patient has received a full-fledged examination (extended topically-oriented diagnostics of higher mental functions, possibly also an instrumental, laboratory examination) and a “variant” of a cognitive problem has been identified for him, for which preferred goals for training have been proposed.

That is, it must be known exactly which of the functions of higher nervous activity has a failure in a particular person.

For example, a deterioration in symbolic-numerical coding was revealed in combination with a violation of the understanding of logical and grammatical structures, indicating a deterioration in semantic memory, and related to this – a decrease in the speed of thinking and a decrease in the overall neurodynamics of mental processes.

It is not advisable for such a patient to “drive a crossword puzzle” for 10 minutes and play a puzzle.

Therefore, you must first go to the doctor for neuro-psychological testing. The clinical use of training programs in professional institutions makes it possible, even in the case of progressive dementia, to slow down the process of “intellectual scattering”, develop memorization skills and develop self-care skills.

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