Bermudian neurochemist to give lecture tonight
A few secrets for ageing well – and taking early steps to help avoid dementia – will be shared tonight by a Bermudian scientist visiting the Bermuda College.
Eve DeRosa, the Dean of Faculty from Cornell University in the US, will reveal pointers from her research into the mind.
“I hope that I can show what’s happening in the ageing brain, and ways that we can un-age a little bit, to stave off cognitive decline,” said the researcher, who has extensively studied the nervous system and the brain’s inner chemistry.
Dr DeRosa is the invited speaker for the college’s annual Roche Science Event from 6.30pm to 8pm at the Athene Lecture Theatre.
Some tips for healthy ageing are well known: keeping mentally active through exploring new activities, or engaging in puzzles and games.
A study last year showed that tackling hearing loss through devices such as hearing aids could slow declining mental faculties by allowing the elderly a richer experience of sound – which stimulates the mind.
Enhancing sensory stimulus means that “the more richly something is coming into the brain, the more likely it is to be packaged for memory”, Dr DeRosa said.
When it comes to conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, she said: “It’s really about early detection and intervention – maintaining social connections, getting physical exercise if you’re able and, if not, even just engaging in activity such as deep breathing.”
She said people should prepare for ageing in their middle years, and get an early start on “thinking about our longevity and our health”.
“Honestly, I think what you want is that curiosity and love of learning, whether it’s learning a new language or something like joining a walking club.”
Dr DeRosa said people could benefit from balancing their nervous systems – moving from the “fight or flight” state active when responding to threats, towards the relaxed states, known to researchers as the “rest and digest part of the nervous system”.
Her research at Harvard University took her into the neurochemistry associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine – present throughout the body, but which declines over a human lifetime.
“It’s in the muscles of the heart, and it also allows us to take in information and store it as memory,” she said.
Her current work looks at the nervous system’s link between the heart and the brain, and how the two influence one another – particularly through the vagus nerve connecting them.
But even demographic shifts affecting Bermuda’s population have lifestyle implications for older Bermudians, she said, with the senior population rising, and some households losing younger members to overseas, thus becoming “less multigenerational homes”, meaning less interaction and mental stimulation at hand for seniors.
Dr DeRosa’s own family comes with examples of healthy ageing.
Her last trip home was in February 2020 for the funeral of her aunt, Mayo Darrell, who was just three months shy of her 104th birthday and in “fantastic” spirits.
“Her sister, my grandmother Genevieve ”Jenny“ DeRosa, will be 103 years old in May. She always writes down notes about what she buys in groceries and stays active in the household.”
She noted that Bermuda offered plenty of chances for exposure to “green spaces and blue spaces” – peaceful surroundings close to woodland and water that are shown to boost the longevity of the mind.
Dr DeRosa said the Bermuda College talk was her first chance to speak about her research back home.
Outreach with the community is part of Cornell University’s mandate, she added.
“I’m in the lab, but what we try to do is go out into the community. Part of the outreach I do is teaching neuroscience to elementary school students in our under-resourced school districts.
“That’s part of the attraction of Cornell. There is laboratory science but also what it means beyond the laboratory.
“I’ve never been invited to do something like this at home. I really wanted to come and hopefully do some good.”
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