So you are my age, 64, and worried about memory aging? But you are a Boomer and we have grown up with a "can do", "we can change it" kind of mindset, and over the course of your life, you have watched your world change because of choices you and others have made individually or in concert.
You were in college when the moon landings occurred and you have learned how to use computers and technology, and you have watched the flow of information explode, and you figure somebody somewhere is doing something about this memory aging issue, maybe because they are your age.
Well, your suspicion is correct. There are many people exploring the memory aging issue and coming up with novel learning experiences that can change the course of our aging.
Ever heard the words neurogenesis and neuroplasticity? As you read on, keep those in mind.
But how do we define the problem of memory aging?
This information is from the Posit Science website.
"Beginning after age 30, three core trends begin to affect brain function. Over time, these have noticeable impacts on our memory, thinking, and focus. They include:
1. Speed: Slower processing Our brains gradually slow down—but the speed of information (sights and sounds happening in our life) coming in from the senses does not. Over time, the brain begins to miss details, making it more difficult to react to and remember what you saw or heard.
2. Accuracy: “Fuzzier” processing Like the grooves of an old record, the brain’s neural pathways often get fuzzier, scratchier, or even distorted. When the brain records the static along with the important sensory information, memories are fuzzier and more difficult to process in higher cognitive functions.
3. Recording: Fewer neuromodulators The brain uses chemicals called neuromodulaters to determine what information is important to record and process. With each passing decade, our brains produce fewer neuromodulators. A deficit of neuromodulators hinders the brain’s ability to record new information—in other words, its ability to learn and remember.
At first, people don’t notice problems in the moment because they (unknowingly) use context to fill in what they missed. In other words, we draw on our extensive life experience to “fill in the blanks” and make sense of information that is incomplete. Although this compensatory behavior helps us in the immediate situation, it doesn’t improve the quality of the recording (the memory). As the years pass, the gaps can become too big for context to fill in. When this occurs, it can be hard to catch and respond to the information even at the moment."
"As we get older, our ability to create new memories may be affected, making it more difficult to learn new things. It's not that we forget more easily; we may simply take longer to learn information in the first place.
In practical terms, this means that as we get older, we may have to pay closer attention to new information that we want to retain."
About a year ago I came across a book by Norman Doidge,M.D., called The Brain That Changes Itself.
Doidge is and was documenting advances in knowledge about how the human brain functions and can be changed.
Two of the words he talked about were neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.
Neurogenesis means that the brain grows new neurons, not haphazardly, but every day, and I can keep those neurons and get them located to circuitry in need of replacement neurons if I challenge those new neurons with novel learning experiences.
Feel more hopeful about your memory aging?
Nobody knew that the human brain had the capacity to renew itself like this until about 10 years ago, so be thankful for all that science that grew out of the commitment that President Kennedy made to the lunar explorations during his first term.
Neuroplasticity is a term that describes the human brain's ability to rewire itself, within minutes sometimes when a learning experience happens. (However this memory is not consolidated yet).
The more rewiring going on, the better my memory is and the quicker I learn and store a new memory.
So it appears that the phrase 'use it or lose it' really applies here, as the brain, being an organ concerned with energy consumption (it uses the most fuel of any organ) and energy conservation (it pares neurons and circuits not in use)will keep or discard neurons based on their activity.
Doidge interviews Michael Merzenich,Ph.D. who is one of the co-creators of the Posit Science Brain Fitness Program, and one of the world's leading neuroplasticity experts, and Merzenich's ideas are fascinating.
To sum them up folks, we are not destined to a decline into Alzheimers Disease after all.
There are some things we can do to keep our aging memory apparatus sharp.
Prepare to work out your brain, just like you workout your bicep.
If you want an overview of the pillars of brain fitness, which describes the main areas of concern for aging memory and brain fitness, then I suggest you read this book, available as an e-book, or in hard cover form, which speaks very clearly to the impact that life style choices have on our brain.
The authors, Simon Evans,Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt,Ph.D. are neuroscientists at the University of Michigan, and they want us to have this information for our own successful aging process.
The pillars of brain fitness are physical exercise, nutrition including omega 3 fatty acid, sleep, stress management, and novel learning experiences which might include using a computerized brain fitness program like the Posit Science program created by Dr. Merzenich.
In fact, the IMPACT study gives a whole new level of credibility to the Posit Science Program, as it tested the Posit Program on over 500 seniors.
Here is a quick video that describes the surprise of both the participants and the researchers at the vigor of The Posit Science Brain Fitness Program.
Now lets get on with the particulars of brain fitness, and start with the most important thing we can do for brain fitness and aging memory, physical acitivity/exercise.
To maximize your neurogenesis and neuroplastic capacities, it will be necessary to...breath deep.
Preferrably while doing aerobic exercise.
There is good news if you are out of shape, or have not followed an exercise routine for awhile, you can get that deep breathing and extra blood flow to your brain by walking around the neighborhood, or making a couple of extra trips up and down the steps.
Evans and Burghardt call that increasing the level of physical activity, and it does not call for flinging around heavy barbells, or training for the Ironman Triathalon, although Jim Ward competed in the Ironman when he was 74, so some of us are working out hard.
Ever heard of HIIT, or high intensity interval training? Probably sounds scary.
Does not need to be? Take a look at how 88 year old Bill and 82 year old Pat do HIIT. Bill and Pat have been training with Scott Tousignant for 8 years, and they began working out to better handle the rigors of traveling about 8 years ago, which would make Bill about 80 years old when he began.
So it is never to late to find a program to follow which enhances your deep breathing and your brain fitness at the same time.
By the way, if you click on that link, you will meet Bill and Pat about 2/3 of the way down the page.
Evans and Burghardt do not recommend a diet plan, but they spend a great deal of time talking about the brain's need for micro and macronutrients, and the importance of getting lots of antioxidants from vegetables and fruits into your diet.
They also talk about the significant role that omega 3 fatty acid plays in memory aging. It turns out that our neurons, including those new neurons born everyday, are sheathed in membranes composed of omega 3 fatty acid, and it has to be replaced or those membranes get brittle and neurons then do not talk clearly amongst themselves, making us lose our memories.
Memories are our identity by the way. The best source of omega 3 fatty acid is fish, but that my cause mercury poisoning concerns for you, so perhaps you will consider a
Evans and Burghardt talk about the need to get appropriate sleep as part of our brain fitness and memory aging training.
They say that important memory consolidation and hormonal events happen during our sleep, and if we cut our sleep short, we do so at risk to our brain fitness.
Stress hormones are supposed to be present in our bodies when our lives are threatened, not when we read the newspaper, or look at the value of our retirement investments. Stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol actually kill those new neurons before they get locked in to an existing circuit.
If you have followed the brain fitness field, you are aware of the Sharp Brains blog, and its author Alvaro Fernandez, who recommends the Heartmath tool as the best stress reduction tool available.
Maybe it is your golf game, or your kids school test scores which bring the stress hormones? Heartmath will help with those too.
The next important consideration for your memory aging brain is the novel learning experience.
That kind of learning experience is the kind we experience when we learn a new language, or learn a new career, or learn a new instrument. Unfortunately, more sudoko or crosswords, or new counseling books, in my case, do not fit the bill. The challenge has got to offer, according to the Posit Science folks, increasing levels of challenges and the opportunity for us to generate about 80% correct answers, which makes the computerized brain fitness programs a time efficient and economical alternative, if you are not going to learn how to play a saxophone at this stage of your life.
I have tried three of the commercially available programs and recommend all three, Lumosity, Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro, and the Posit Science Program.
The Posit Science program has been good for my word recall, Mind Sparke has developed my focus tremendously, and Lumosity is a great break kind of tool, available on my desk top for ten minutes of challenging brain brightening between chores.