Frozen in mid-sentence, you forget a name. With your pen poised over a check, you cannot recall the date. You’ve gone into the kitchen, but you can no longer remember what for. And where is that damned cell phone? Are you one of the worried well? Many of us are anxious to live a long life, but fearful of our potential for the humiliation and debilitation of dementia. What to do? Should you try a computer game? Magnesium tablets? A week at an expensive brain training center? Brain fitness is the new buzzword and wealthy aging baby boomers are eager to buy a healthier brain.
Here are a few examples: Biocybernaut’s Alpha Brain Wave Training To Reverse Brain Aging. Trainings led by Dr. James V. Hardt, Founder and President of Biocybernaut, are $24,998 per person, which includes the 7-Day Premium Double Training package. How about a $10,000 week at California’s Cal-a-Vie Spa with Dr. Cynthia Green teaching the science of memory improvement and brain fitness.
NO MAGIC BULLET
There is no pill that exists, no tactical brain exercise, no magic herb or single cure for forgetfulness or its dreaded daft cousin, dementia. The causes of memory loss are so varied and complex that there is no one size fits all cure. And even though research is ongoing, the problem is getting ever more significant because dementia is a disease of old age, and a great percentage of the population, the baby-boomers, are aging and living longer than ever before.
WHAT IS NORMAL?
First of all, it is important to distinguish between what is normal and what is not.
It is normal to forget the names of people in your life, especially if you can recall certain traits of the person, hair color, the context in which you know them, where they live, etc.
It is not normal to fail to recall the person once the name is mentioned and facts about them are supplied for further recall.
It is normal to misplace your keys or cell phone, but it is not normal to repeatedly place them in odd places like the refrigerator or oven.
It is normal to need reminders about appointments or what day it is. It’s not normal to forget how to find your way home.
MIND OVER MATTER–THE BRAIN IS ALWAYS CHANGING
We do not have to be passive about brain health as we age. Indeed it is entirely possible to create new brain cells that enhance brain function to prevent, reduce or postpone memory loss in most people. It is also possible to destroy brain matter, and reduce your memory function, attention span and clarity.
Memory is stored in a region of the brain called the hippocampus. Located in the temporal lobe, the hippocampus has weight and heft. It can grow and conversely, it can shrink. Aging can be a factor in the reduction of the size of the hippocampus, which can affect the formation of new memories and the retention of old ones. The brain is resourceful though. New neurons are created by the brain in a complex system of chemical and electrical networks as we learn or experience something new. How best to nurture this neuronal growth over a lifetime is the challenge.
SIMPLY PUT, WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR BRAIN IS THE SAME AS WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR HEART
It appears that the very same things doctors recommend for a healthy, fit body are essential for brain health as well. A healthy lifestyle which includes exercise, good diet, a good night’s sleep, an active social life and a desire to learn new things are emerging as the best tools in the arsenal to maintain brain health.
EXERCISE IS KEY
If you are already exercising routinely you are already doing what is most important to keep your mind healthy. Studies show that regular cardiovascular exercise strengthens your heart, lowers your risk of high blood pressure and strokes, and helps to fight off cancer. It is also critical for improving your brain function as well.
“The brain is like a muscle,” says Dr. Jonathan Lieff, a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Medical School. He is a practicing psychiatrist, with specialties in geriatric psychiatry and neuropsychiatry and writes a blog called Searching for the Mind. “An active brain builds new circuits. Like any other part of the body, a brain that is exercised, like muscles, will grow as well, no matter how old you are.”
“After a bout of exercise the brain has a window of time in which it can create new circuits and grow, an event known as neuroplasticity.” Neuroplasticity is a term that expresses the brain’s ability to change and grow.
“Elderly people can indeed build their brains. It’s called wisdom. It is true that the elderly become slower at name recognition or may have word retrieval issues. But word finding problems do not affect judgment. The elderly brain in active, educated people does not decrease unless there are diseases. Those can take a horrible toll on memory.”
However, even though it would be a medical triumph to find the cure for Alzheimer’s and age related memory loss, research scientists and the best medical minds agree: There are emerging general guidelines for the worried well.
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