Several years ago at age 60 I began to notice the need to improve memory power. I began to notice that I was hesitating a bit in my attempts to recall just the right word at just the right time, which I know understand is something that brains my age do.
I have also read a few very powerful books that speak to recently discovered capacities of the human brain, like neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, which have a direct bearing on improving memory power.
The first book that I read was Norman Doidge's book called "The Brain That Changes Itself". I was riveted by his writing, in particular the chapters about Michael Merzenich,Ph.D. who has put together a program called the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, which is a computerized program designed to improve memory.
Merzenich is one of the world's leading researchers in the neuroplasticity field. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe what neurons do when they learn something new, which is form new connections. Sounds like memory to me.
The good news is that neuroplasticity can be encouraged, enhanced, and all of that has an impact of improved memory power.
In other words, hesitating a bit in word recall was not a signal that I was descending into alzheimers hell, I was normal, and I needed to begin working out my brain a bit.
The really stunning discovery for Seniors and Boomers in particular was that our brains grow new neurons, which we call neurogenesis.
In other words, that old dogma about my brain having all the circuits and neurons it was going to have by the time I was age 5 or something like that was wrong.
For a Boomer, new neurons is very exciting.
Like with anything though, there is a catch. To enhance neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, I need to work out my brain.
Just like I work out my bicep? Working out your bicep and your prefrontal cortex and your memory are entwined.
Most of the experts are reporting that to improve memory power, I need to attend to the pillars of brain fitness, which are physical exercise, nutrition, which will include antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acid, sleep well, manage my stress, and generate novel learning experiences, and the experts are saying that the learning most important is the kind of learning we have when we learn a new instrument or a new language. In other words, as a counselor I cannot read another counseling text and generate neuroplasticity or neurogenesis. I need to do something different, and for me that has meant using computerized brain fitness programs until I have more time to take piano lessons.
If you want a very good overview of the pillars of brain fitness, I suggest you read Brainfit for Life by Simon Evans,Ph.D., and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D., who are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan. As a layperson, I am grateful that they leave the jargon in the lab, and that they write with a sly sense of humor.
Evans and Burghardt go into some detail about why physical acivity/exercise is so important for neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. The good news is I do not need to join an expensive gym or hire an expensive trainer and fling around heavy barbells, although that is OK. I simply need to do enough physical activity, walking around the block is OK, that I am breathing deeply for a time every day.
And they discuss the other pillars as well, so learn what they have to say about the importance of sleep, stress management, and omega 3 fatty acids, but I want to get to what Michael Merzenich,Ph.D. says about improving memory power.
A"fter age 30, the brain gradually begins to take in less information from the senses. And what it takes in tends to be "noisier," making it harder to remember accurately. The Brain Fitness Program can reverse these trends, improving the quality and quantity of the information your brain absorbs from your ears.
The result: what you hear becomes easier to take in, think over, and remember-whether it's an important instruction at work, a conversation at the Thanksgiving table, or a new acquaintance's name."
The auditory training that Professor Merzenich mentions is different from what you probably have come to associate with improving memory power.
I know when I was a kid, we were taught association tools, and a good memory meant you could memorize long lists of numbers for example.
This kind of improve memory power is a little different in that you are working to workout auditory circuits so those neurons in the auditory circuits work in tandem as easily as they did in your younger days.
Are there other tools that can help in this neurogenesis and neuroplasticity process?
Other computerized brain fitness programs that I think are particularly strong for us are the Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, and Lumosity, and the Happy Neuron program.
Heartmath, a heart rate variability biofeedback tool is extremely useful for the stress management pillar, and actually opens up higher perceptual centers in the brain for brain memory improvement.
I suggest you research them and practice them. Heartmath you will learn, and will not need to sit at your computer for practice unless you want to. Heartmath is a wonderful feel good tool, by the way, available to you heart beat by heart beat.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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