Brain Fitness for Seniors?
Not sure where you are in the Senior Continuum, but I am 61, which I believe qualifies me.
However, there are guys at the YMCA where I work out who are 20 years my senior who look at me as I have not yet paid the membership dues, so I guess it is all in how you look at it, right? Whether you are a Senior of some kind.
As a kid, my Dad used to say to me that he expected me to take care of him when he was old, and I always wondered why.
Of course now I know why he did that, and I would welcome the opportunity now to do just that.
Implicit in his message was a sense that when you are 'old' you lose some ability to take care of yourself, and become dependent.
Yet Baby Boomers are arriving at this stage of their lives with an entirely different belief system about their age and capacities, including dedicating this time of their lives to making a difference as a volunteer or coach, or retirement re-careering, for example, and Boomers who have grown up with a sense of making a difference on (and in) the system, are expecting to maintain their health and vitality by taking care of themselves, including utilizing new knowledge about the human brain.
Neuroplasticity? Neurogenesis? What value could those concepts bring to my Boomer lifestyle?
An extraordinary amount of value, actually.
My Boomer brain is growing new neurons everyday, which is called neurogenesis. No one was aware of this a decade ago. No one knew that the human brain had this capacity.
What is not so clear today is how we keep these fresh new neurons moving into existing brain circuits. What I am reading says that we need to involve a challenging learning experience which could mean anything from learning a new language to learning a new instrument to using computerized brain fitness programs.
(I doubt that I am going to learn a new language, and I may take up an instrument, but I can make time everyday, perhaps two times per day, to do computerized brain fitness programs, if they have value. The difference between crosswords and sudoku and the computerized brain fitness programs is that the programs build in increasing challenge levels, which makes the learning appropriate to locking in the new neurons).
Apparently, if there is no challenging learning experience, then the brain does not keep the new neurons. Sounds like such a waste.
Neuroplasticity is a term describing the brains ability to rewire itself, which seems pretty self-evident until you stop and think about how this is happening now, as you read this, your neurons are reaching out to each other in a ceaseless attempt to build new connections. If those connections prove useful the brain will keep them, which keeps us alive and vibrant. However, the attempt to build new connections does not stop. Those connections and the rewiring of the brain is constant and unending and those connections happen in minutes, not months, years, and decades. No one pours a lecture into my head, and knowledge happens. My brain does this.
And I can nurture, aid, and abet my brain in neuroplasticity and neurogenesis?
Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity are both impacted by exercise, sleep, nutrition, stress management, and the novel learning experiences mentioned above.
But I want to start with the research on a couple of the computerized brain fitness programs, and a book, Brainfit for Life, which I use to sort the marketing wheat from the marketing chaff.
Almost as soon as the information about neuroplasticity and neurogenesis became available, marketers started creating copy and products became available for use, including one from Nintendo, which is a game, and does not claim to have any brain fitness value, but you have to read the copy closely and calmly to discern that.
Since we are dealing with a profound fear, it is very important to not get caught up in the copy and spend money on something that provides little brain fitness value.
I like the Evans and Burghardt book, Brainfit for Life because it provides me common sense interpretation of research by authorities who are not hawking the product. They are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, and I have done two interviews of Professor Evans on Blog Talk Radio, and found him to cordial and passionate about his knowledge, which is encyclopedic.
The book is for sale, of course, but $17.00 is much more in my price range if the information is not pertinent than what I might pay for one of the products.
(I looked into marketing one of them to nursing homes and the expense for training and the business was way higher than that).
I have also read some the books that are becoming available like The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, MD, and Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Sharon Begley.
Doidge mentions Michael Merzenich, Ph.D. who is the creator of the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, one of the commercially available brain fitness programs, and is quite positive about Merzenich and Posit Science, which has been made for and tested on folks older even than me.
Posit Science was tested in the just published IMPACT studies, and according to them, that study proves conclusively the value of the Brain Fitness program.
But again, research and third party corroboration are what I am after before I fire up my credit card and purchase a product which may do little for my neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
This material is from the Posit Science folks, Michael Merzenich et.al.
"With 524 participants, the IMPACT study is the largest clinical trial ever to examine whether a specially designed, widely available cognitive training program—the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program™—significantly improves cognitive abilities in adults. Led by distinguished scientists from Mayo Clinic and the University of Southern California, the IMPACT study proves that people can make statistically significant gains in memory and processing speed if they do the right kind of scientifically designed cogitive exercises."
The Posit Science folks speak frequently to the ..."right kind of scientificlly designed cognitive exercises."
Other programs are not quite so specific.
Now for a personal testamonial. I have the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program and have been practicing since last fall. Actually, I have four of the commercially available programs and have been practicing with them since Aug. of 2008. I noticed right away that the memory scores on the other three improved with the addition of the Posit Science practice. Also, my ability to recall just the right word at just the right time improved, and I have more confidence that I can sustain an effective level of brain functioning for longer. In other words, I am not helpless in this aging process, waiting for the inevitable.
The Posit Science folks have a lot of good information at their website, continually updated, for those of us interested in deepening our knowledge base.
Reading about changes in the brain fitness field qualifies as a novel learning experience for me, I believe.
At about the same time as I discovered the Posit Science program, I came across mention of research being conducted using the dual n back task, which was being developed commercially by Martin Walker of Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro fame.
I was intrigued because the researchers are not involved in marketing, and they say there apparently is no upper end to the improvement you can achieve with this tool, measured using IQ tests. (Martin has just revealed a version for kids).
Again, I bought it and loved the practice, which can become quite intriguing once you catch on to it. Wonderful for visual and auditory memory. Easy to use, 20 minutes a day for the first go 'round, then maintenance practice. You can advance through many levels of challenge. Easy to use for the late in life and not familiar with computer type of person. And Evans and Burghardt talk about the research in their book, but not Mind Sparke.
Martin also has a blog at his website, which keeps you up to date with changes in the field.
I have also tried and liked the Lumosity program, which is an online subscription program. It is easy to use at my level of computer expertise, and I think for a Senior unfamiliar with computers, easy to catch on to with a bit of coaching from one of the grandchildren who is patient.
I use Lumosity at my office when I need to switch gears, between clients or phone calls or tasks, when I want to bring some new neurotransmitters to my brain.
Its strong points for me is ease of use and price, and the blog, which speaks to their new games and use of the research.
Nutrition is a key piece of the brain fitness puzzle. It is imperative that we get fruits and vegetables and their fiber, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, and glyconutrients to our neurons.
A key component of brain fitness is getting the brain omega 3 fatty acids, either through diet or supplement.
The best source is fish, ocean going fish, not the farmed variety.
I use a supplement for my omega 3 fatty acid, because I do not like the smell of fish or cooking fish.
Somebody recommended that I take this supplement a long time ago, and I did, but did not like the burps I got or the after taste, so I quit, until I read Evans and Burghardt again, and just recently tried an OTC version, and had no burps, apparently the delivery system is better, and again my attention and focus improved.
But Evans and Burghardt recommend that you make sure the supplement you use is distilled a certain way, and the label should say that it has been done.
My OTC supplement does not indicate that kind of processing so I am switching to xtend-life, because I do not need my supplement to fill me up with mercury pollution, another problem with fresh fish.
Over the years, I have tried EEG biofeedback (and liked it), sound and light machines for brain wave entrainment, hemisynch tapes, and lots and lots of relaxation tapes.
Of the tools I have used consistently, HeartMath heart rate variability biofeedback is the one I use most regularly. It is a computerized program, and is a wonderful relaxation tool. It took me five to ten practices to learn so that I could cue the coherence without being hooked up to the computer.
When my heart beats at a certain level of coherence, my brain and body feel good, and I can cue this physiology on demand once it is learned. My brain then opens higher perceptual centers for problem solving and brain storming.
This is a technique that I teach to my domestic violence and anger management folks.
Here is a link to the Heartmath store and a video demonstration.
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