Our brains are amazing biological machines, and if you’ve listened to my English language learning podcasts, you know I like to understand how our brains work. To help me build and design better language learning techniques.
Today I’m going to take a fresh approach to our English listening lesson. Instead of talking about how our brains help us, I’m going to talk about how we can help our brains.
We expect a lot from our brains and we expect them to keep working long into old age. Unfortunately for many people, they may be physically healthy as they get older, but if you don’t look after your brain it can fail long before bodies give up.
So today, as you listen and learn with this conversation in English, we will talk about what the most recent neuroscience is telling us about what is happening to our brains as we get older and what you need to do right now while you are still young.
Just a quick
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Rinse Alzheimers Dementia Prevention Biological Cure
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Hi and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English. We are Adept English – helping thousands of people all around the world who are learning how to speak English.
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I like to cover a variety of topics in podcasts – to keep you interested, but along the way, you will learn all kinds of different vocabulary, you learn to speak English professionally, perhaps. So here goes today with something that you’ll hopefully find interesting at the same time as learning new vocabulary.
An interesting research study was completed in April in the UK this year – and it’s something that should be of interest to all of us. University College London collected data from 10,000 people about their sleep.
Your sleep, SLEEP – that’s what you do for several hours each night, when you go to bed - you sleep. It’s a verb ‘to sleep’ and a noun ‘to have a good sleep’. And you can also use it as a generalised noun, an ‘uncountable’ noun – ‘sleep is a wonderful thing’. It’s like a substance – like traffic or water. Those are all ‘uncountable’ nouns.
So in this study, sleep data was collected from 10,000 volunteers. Volunteers are people who agreed to be in the study, who volunteered to be in the study. And the conclusion, the result of the study was that people who sleep 6 hours or less in middle age – so that’s in their 50s and their 60s – well, they’re at more risk of dementia when they’re older.
So dementia, DEMENTIA - that’s a general term for illness, a disease which gradually affects the brain. It’s usually associated with people who are older, elderly – and the brain is affected so that memory, thinking and behaviour changes. The function of the brain declines and your ability not just to remember things, but also to make judgements in situations – it deteriorates.
Dementia is a condition which seems very, very common in our modern world. This to some extent is because we’re living longer perhaps. But even taking that into account, dementia seems to be on the increase.
For most of us, developing dementia is not something that we want to have in our old age. I think it’s quite normal to accept that we’ll get old and we’ll die – but please let it be something else! To have dementia is not something anyone would choose. Most of us know someone who has or has had dementia – it’s horrible. It takes your dignity and your personality.
And dementia has a big cost to society. It’s expensive to provide the care that’s needed for people with dementia. So research into dementia and its causes has been continuing for many years. Much of it is funded by pharmaceutical companies, who are motivated to trial drugs in the hope of finding cure.
‘Cure’, CURE – that’s when you make it better, that’s when you make the disease go away. And of course, these pharmaceutical companies are not just motivated because they want to help people – there are huge amounts of money to be made, because it’s such a common condition. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that dementia is something which develops over a very long period of time.
By the time that someone is showing signs, symptoms of dementia, it’s very difficult to change it. The brain has already been affected over the long term. And this is why pharmaceutical companies have not been very successful in finding a cure. It’s becoming clear that if we want to fight dementia, then lifestyle changes much earlier on in our lives, which may help prevent dementia, are a better way forward.
The verb ‘to prevent’, PREVENT means ‘to stop something’, ‘to stop something happening’ and the noun associated with this verb is ‘prevention’, PREVENTION. As in the phrase ‘prevention is better than cure’. And the adjective associated with these words is ‘preventative’, PREVENTATIVE, ‘preventative’. So I’m a big fan of preventative medicine.
So back to the study. University College London has been running a study since 1985, called the Whitehall II Study – just in case you want to look it up. The volunteers in the study reported on various lifestyle factors, including their sleep. And the study went on for 25 years - so that scientists could analyse the data – and look at what lifestyle factors seem to influence the development of dementia.
A photograph of a woman holding MRI scan of a patients brain. We learn how to look after our brains in today's practice conversation in English lesson.
A clear relationship emerged between sleep patterns when volunteers were in their 50s and their 60s, so that means aged between 50 years old and 69 years old. Those people who routinely had less than 6 hours sleep each night – well, they appeared to have a 30% higher chance of developing dementia in their 70s and 80s. 30% higher – that’s a lot! Poor sleep probably isn’t the only cause, but it seems as though it makes a contribution.
So scientists are not saying that there’s a definite link here – or not yet. And in fact, it could also be true that brain changes which later result in dementia may affect sleep in middle age – so the cause and effect could be the other way around.
But the evidence that sleep is part of what leads to dementia is building. And in fact for other diseases of old age – like heart disease, there’s also evidence building that poor sleep, in particular something called ‘sleep apnoea’, where you stop breathing during your sleep – well that seems to play a part in causing heart disease and heart problems. All the things which lead to heart disease happen more quickly if you have ‘sleep apnoea’.
What was also not known, until relatively recently, is that when we sleep, the brain cleans itself. In 2013, a process was discovered which happens when we sleep, where fluid, liquid flushes through the brain.
The verb ‘to flush’, FLUSH – well that’s what happens with a toilet, when you run water through it. This ‘flushing’ process is like a cleaning, a ‘rinsing out’. There’s another verb - ‘to rinse’, RINSE. That’s when you run water through something to clean it. If you shampoo your hair, we’d say that you ‘rinse’ the shampoo with water out of your hair.
So when you go to sleep, your brain gets rinsed – liquid runs through your brain and rinses out toxic material that builds up in there. In particular a substance called ‘beta amyloid protein’ which is associated with dementia, especially Alzheimers, and this appears to be rinsed out, flushed from your brain.
There’s even evidence that the brain temporarily makes itself smaller, so that the fluid, the liquid can flow better and do a better job of rinsing the brain while we sleep. It’s rather like cleaning the streets with water in hot countries, where it gets dusty!
So in the light of that discovery, it makes sense that if we don’t sleep long enough for this process of ‘brain cleaning’ to take place, we are more likely to suffer a gradual build-up of amyloid protein, which could eventually lead to dementia.
There are plenty other reasons to get good sleep, apart from the fear of developing dementia later in your life. You feel better, you eat less, you perform better, you can concentrate more and your body is more able to repair itself. And your immune system is stronger.
But while the evidence is gathering about dementia – it seems sensible to go with the scientific advice, just in case – get 7 to 9 hours sleep every night. Believing you can go without sleep may be dangerous. I’m reminded of our Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who had the reputation of ‘only needing 4 hours’ sleep at night, this enabled her to get on with lots of things and be very productive.
I’m not sure whether this is true, but she’s supposed to have said ‘Sleep is for wimps!’. But Margaret Thatcher died with dementia in the end. Who can say that her notoriously short sleep was a cause? But it’s beginning to look as though there may be a connection.
And incidentally, if you learn to speak another language – if you’re bilingual, just as you are – well it’s been found to delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimers. More evidence that Adept English and learning how to speak English isn’t just good for your confidence. It’s also good for your brain!
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Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.