Imagine you could carry your brain as it is now– sharp, focused, and wanting to learn– and arrive in your 60’s and beyond, thinking well. What would it take on your part to ensure you hit that age mark with minimum “brain drain”? Well, you have it totally within your power (and God’s help) to do just that.
My older sibling had basic Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and felt it was worsening. So when she came out to Seattle this summer for a visit, we took her to see a specialist. There, I learned good brain information which can help you and those you love from her clinical neuropsychologist, Kristoffer W. Rhoads Ph.D., who specializes in evaluating and treating dementia and neurodegenerative disorders with UW Medicine at Harborview Medical Center Seattle, WA.
Physical Exercise— High-intensity aerobic exercise for 45 minutes four times a week, such as walking, running, and swimming, is more effective than any brain drug out there, according to a glut of new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International.
Classical Music— Listening to classical music in the background of your day is again a brain grower. And it needs to be classical. Classical is required because as you listen to it with continuity, your head knows what melodic movement comes next. Without words, the brain has to work harder to remember.
Learning–TV watcher? Well, Dr. Rhoads shared that television is passive, so make the brain stretch. Play cards, learn a language, pick up a musical instrument, do crossword puzzles, play Scrabble, get a new hobby, read a book. Learn and keep on learning.
Society—Having social ties is imperative. That means opening your life to old and new friendships with whom you meet regularly. That also means volunteering, serving in your Parish, and reaching out the hand of fellowship. Sirach 9:10 RSVCE says, “Forsake not an old friend, for a new one does not compare with him. A new friend is like new wine; when it has aged, you will drink it with pleasure.” Whether old or new, good friends challenge us to be the best versions of ourselves, our brains, and all.
Organizational Lists –If you aren’t already writing down your day, begin to. Use either a paper calendar or your smartphone. Then transfer what is undone to the next day. The act of “writing it down” helps with the organizational strategies of our minds. And when thinking about organizing, work your mind with space retrieval too. Meet someone new? Say their name to yourself 5 seconds later, then 20 seconds later, then 1 ½ minutes later. Space retrieval provides targeted brain training.
Other Helps –As I was working on this piece, Time August 12, 2016, published “Untangling Alzheimer’s,” which further cataloged the following:
Shore Up Your Heart---Reducing the risk of heart disease has the strongest evidence of benefits for the brain.
Emphasize Exercise—Aerobic exercise has been shown to grow the volume of certain brain regions that tend to shrink during aging.
Learn New Things---Writing letters and reading have been linked in brain autopsies to better old age mental health.
Be Social—Loneliness is connected with a poorer brain function.
Treat Depression—Depression is linked to twice the risk of mental decline, although it’s not clear if that’s a cause or an effect.
Sleep Well—Improving poor sleep reduces those risks for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s.
Wisdom 4: 8-9 perhaps best states the simple life changes all of us should heed. It says, “For old age is not honored for length of time, nor measured by number of years; but understanding is gray hair for men, and a blameless life is ripe old age.”
Martha Wild King, M. Ed., Author
The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.