Monday, January 3, 2011

Neurobics--Easy Work Out for the Brain

 Recently a friend of mine emailed me to inquire about an issue that perhaps some people reading this can relate to, directly or indirectly.  My friend wrote:

"Recently several family members are getting older and having memory difficulties.  Sometimes they will tell me the same story over and over unaware that they told it to me before, or not remember their agreements or scheduled appointments.  At times they realize they are doing it and it causes them to be quite nervous and afraid for their future and I don't enjoy seeing them in that state of mind.

I am looking for some exercises that I could get them to do which meet the following criteria:

1.  They are easy to do
2.  They won't have too many objections to doing them (some get defensive and insist their memory is perfect)
3.  They measurably improve their memory
4.  They continue to improve their memory with practice as opposed to reaching a plateau
I purchased the pmemory course at one point and like it quite a bit, but I am finding my relatives either can not
do the exercises or don't want to do them, preferring to do things like crossword puzzles or to use affirmations.

The articles I have read don't seem to really have a clue, and don't provide any studies or tests showing credible
statistical evidence in a controlled study."

I mentioned to my friend that the loved ones in question honestly should get checked out professionally.  There could be a variety of reasons why a person's memory is starting to fail, regardless of their age.  The underlying cause may be a nutritional deficiency, depression, or a genuine disease. Each would require different treatments to rectify memory issues or at least ameliorate the symptoms.  For example, when I worked mixed-shifts for years, my sleeping suffered and consequently so did my memory.  For me the right thing at the time was to take modafinil and then later a soporific. The brain exercises prescribed to someone who is suffering memory loss from a degenerative disease like multiple sclerosis would have done nothing for me, because my memory problem did not have an organic origin, it was a sleep pattern issue. 
Sadly, from my friend's response, it seems like some of his family members are much like some of mine.  A few Fieldses and Barfields just will not go to the hospital until something extreme happens, like their skin turns green or something falls off that isn't supposed to.  Even then, they may think their willpower can still fix the problem and skip the hospital visit.  
My friend replied to me:

 "Hey,

They would definitely not go see a therapist, but were open to doing a few exercises with me."
That's unfortunate, as I am a strong advocate of always getting a doctor's opinion before trying anything for your health.  But I also try to work with where people are at in their life.   So I searched through my own personal memory banks, and recalled  doing the exercises in the book _Neurobics_ a few years ago.  The book is rather terse, but has dozens of activities you can do to keep your mind fresh.  The book is co-written by the late neurologist Dr. Lawrence C. Katz, and the activities (I call them "activities" rather than "exercises" because that better describes them) fulfill all of my friend's criteria.
Neurobics is all about making new neuronal connections by exposing yourself to quotidian novel situations.  Taking a new route to home and work, brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, and experimenting with new recipes are but a few examples of activities suggested in the book to help you do this. I tried out all of them. 
In a way what is expected from doing these activities is similar to how children's brains stay engaged in a stimulating environment.  The world is a playground to them, and there is always something new for them to discover.  And kids so often do discover whatever it may be...rapidly.   No doubt because children are constantly making new neuronal connections when doing new activities throughout the day.
When I was doing neurobics, I obviously couldn't scan my own brain to see if I did indeed develop more neuronal connections by trying something new every day.  But I  i) definitely felt like a kid again in terms of energy and engagement of the present, and ii) remember that it was easier for me to see ordinary things in a different light as well as "think outside the box." I certainly felt like my brain was fitter.   
Neurobics is sort of a general remedy for a lack of cognitive fitness the way aerobics is a general remedy for a lack of physical fitness.  I think most people could benefit from incorporating a few neurobic activities into their everyday life--though of course, always consult your physician before trying anything recommended by me.
 Having said that,  their website shares a few activities you can try out for yourself. You can buy the book from Amazon or likely check it out from your local library if you're interested.
 
Happy New Year & Neurons, 


--Nathan (Nth)

 

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