The Frugal Catholic: “Build a Better Brain for Yourself” by Martha Wild King, M.Ed.&#821

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 been having 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.     What I learned  from her clinical neuropsychologist, Kristoffer W. Rhoads PhD, who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of dementia and neurodegenerative disorders with UW Medicine at Harborview Medical Center Seattle WA can help you too and those you love.

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.

Learning–TV watcher? Well Dr. Rhoads shared that television is passive; so to make the brain grow, play cards, learn a language, pick up a musical instrument, do cross-word puzzles, play Scrabble, get a new hobby, read a book. Learn and keep 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.” That’s because friends challenge us to be the best versions of ourselves, brain and all.

Organizational Lists –If you aren’t writing your day down already then begin to. Use either  a paper calendar or your smart phone. Then  transfer what is undone to the next day.  The act of “writing it down” helps with the organizational strategies of our mind. 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:

  1. Shore Up Your Heart…reducing the risk of heart disease has the strongest evidence of benefits for the brain.

  2. Emphasize Exercise—Aerobic exercise has been shown to grow the volume of certain brain regions that tend to shrink during aging.

  3. Learn New Things…writing letters and reading has been linked in brain autopsies to better cognitive health in old age.

  4. Be Social—Loneliness…is connected with poorer brain health.

  5. Treat Depression—Depression…is linked to twice the risk of cognitive decline, though it’s not clear if that’s a cause or an effect.

  6. Sleep Well—Improving poor sleep appears to reduce these risks. [for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s]

Wisdom 4: 8-9 perhaps states best 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”