Thursday, February 09, 2006

D'oh: Keeping Your Mental Alertness

Scientists have known for years that as we get older, the brain tends to function less efficiently, and electrical currents connecting different areas of the brain get weaker. Now studies have shown that this gradual deterioration can be reversed.

Mental decline as you age appears to be largely due to altered connections among brain cells. But research has found that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections. Even new brain cells can be generated.

Yes, Homer Simpson, even you can generate new brain cells too.

Low levels of education have been found to be related to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s later in life. This may be due to a lower level of life-long mental stimulation. Put another way, higher levels of education appear to be somewhat protective against Alzheimer’s, possibly because brain cells and their connections are stronger. Well-educated individuals can still get Alzheimer’s, but symptoms may appear later because of this protective effect.

You don’t have to turn your life upside down to keep a healthy mental alertness.

Keep your brain active every day:

1. Stay curious and involved — commit to lifelong learning.
2. Read, write, work crossword or other puzzles.
3. Attend lectures and plays.
4. Enroll in courses at adult education centers, community college or other community group
5. Play games.
6. Garden.
7. Try memory exercises.
8. Do aerobic exercise - walking is wonderful.
9. Teach someone something.
10. Listen to classical music.


Alzheimer's Organization

AARP Online Games and Puzzles

Third Age Online Games

The Memory Page – Tips and exercises to help you improve your memory at any age.

The New York Times Crossword Puzzle


Dawn said...

i love the pictures you get for your posts:)

i've already noticed my my brain functioning less efficiently, seriously. it drives me nuts some days. i used to have a really good memory, too.

i wonder why classical vs. other music is recommended? ive heard that before, but could never really figure out why :)

Donna said...

I know my brain isn't working as well as it used to, even doing some of the things on your list. It's very frustrating.

chase said...

i've heard this and definitly advocate it, there are a billion new things a person can learn and if you keep active there's less chance of alzheimers as well as dementia caused by "old age".

There was another article I read that said as you get older time seems to pass quicker, they say this is because we "do less", if you do more, you'll have more memories and time will seem longer or slower per say.

Great article Deb.

Raine said...

Thank you for the information you put here on your blog - its very helpful to me

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Dawn,
Classical music, with its pitch, tone, dissonance and arrangements seems to stimulate our brain in ways that other music doesn't. It primes the brain in wonderful ways.
Today, I put the milk in the pantry. So much for being alert!

Dear Donna,
I know I feel that way too. I have forgetful moments!

Dear Chase,
I remember how timeless things felt as a child...and how time flies now as an adult. I think you may be onto something with your comment.

Dear Raine,
So glad this can be meaningful to you.


Mr. Death said...

I do a lot of those things everyday...and this is a good, imformative post. Esepcially looking at how media-oriented society is, its good to encourage people (through media or otherwise) to challenge themselves.

Godwhacker said...

When I was younger, there was not a detail I could not remember. I would never write anything down. I knew all my friends phone numbers by heart. Then came the age of the cell phone and the digital address book. I realized that I was lost without my phone.

I put a stop to that. I still have the numbers saved in my phone, but I dial them from memory ~ not from the address book. That is just one little thing I do to keep sharp. It also helps when to phone is on the fritz.

jumpinginpuddles said...

wohooo that means we get to play pictionary more and draw worse as we get older :D But at least we can say we were stimulating the brain cells into action :D

sjobs said...

Deb-About three years ago I took a class on the brain and how we learn. It was the most intersting class I have ever taken. What an amazing organ our brain is!!!! They talked about the brain research even back then, how important it is to stay active, alert, and doing activities and this seems to build new brain cells. Hopefully, all of my cells wouldn't die to quickly but with a 5 year old, this mid-aged woman will have to stay alert for at least 20 more years.

Just looking at the difference between babies born on crack, with FAS, and an herione addict and their brains was amazing.....

Thanks for the update.

kath said...

how about if i skip 7 & 10

and just keep 8/10 of my brain working

weary is me

really weary

take care..
i read, but can't always work up a post..

i have also shared your blog with a friend.. wonder if she visits?

Deb S. said...

If I take this advice, perhaps I'll remember my children's names. Heck, I might even remember my own name. :-)
Great tips.

Grumpy Old Man said...

And turn off the accursed tube.

Has anyone ever studied correlations between TV watching on the one hand, longevity and dementia on the other?

Playground in my Mind said...

Hot on the heals that research shows Alzheimers may be a genetic disease, it is nice to know that we can regenerate brain cells. Thank you for the peace of mind. Renee

alan said...

I had heard some stories about this on NPR. Ginkgo is supposed to help because it dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow, though if you are on blood pressure medicine you have to make sure it doesn't drop it too much.

Anything we can do we need to!


Josie said...

Wow. practical advice. It's like the saying goes "you're as old as you feel".

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Johnny,
I agree. Challenging yourself can prove to be enriching in so many ways.

Dear Godwhacker,
You make a really important insight here. Though technology is a great thing, it allows us to work our brain less. I also phone numbers from memory. I don't access them into speed dial. This is a great way to keep your mind stimulated.

Dear JIP,
Yup. Keep playing those games no matter what!

Dear Mary@ sjobs,
That must have been an exciting class. Isn't it amazing how our bodies work?

Dear Kath,
I hope that you can move through your weariness. I know things have been hard for you.

Dear DCS,
LOL. I know.

Dear GOM,
Yeah, the TV *can* numb the mind. But watching game shows can help stimulate thinking and expand knowledge. I am sure there's been some research on that subject. I'll check it out for you.

Dear Renee,
If we can do things to help prevent or stave off disease, why not, right?

Dear Alan,
There are wonderful wholistic things we can add to our lives, but yes, it is important to know your medical heistory and check out the possibilities with your doctor.

Dear Josie,
I like sharing info. So glad you found it useful.


Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm so glad to know there is hope for me! LOL

Seriously, though, thanks again for the useful information. Now when my husband gives me grief about all the word puzzles I play with I can tell him I'm protecting myself against Alzheimers!

Nurse Practitioners Save Lives said...

There is also a correlation on the loss of smell differentiation and Alzheimer's. If you can't tell the difference between scents at an early age, get checked out. I've been told that "if you don't use it, you'll lose it" several times by my elderly patients.. Great post Dr. Deb!

Laura:) said...

Good, I love to do all those things on the list. So hopefully I will stay mental!

Todd and in Charge said...

Great tips, Dr. One thing Dr. Weil recommends in his new book on aging is to learn a foreign language. This stimulates the brain and rechannels the learning pathways, something I am in desperate need of.

CrackerLilo said...

I'm seeing my grandmother decline from Alzheimer's. She basically was a shut-in by choice for 20 years before that. I am learning the true meaning of the phrase "use it or lose it." Thank you so much for sharing this.

Id it is said...

Here's one reason for kids to not drop out of school!

Interesting write Deb.

It appears that both the body and the mind need flexing in order to remain charged...if only charging were not such a chore, well at least for some.

Heidi said...

Thankyou Deb,

Going to check out those info/links.

Thanx again for your support as always..Hugs back.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Traci,
Yes, and you are protecting yourself from so much more too!
Happy weekend to you and yours.

Dear NPSL,
Yes, I've heard of that too!!

Dear Laura,
LOL, I like your approach and sense of humor.

Dear Todd,
Yes, that's true...taking on another language or using sign language are other greats ways to keep yourself young and vibrant.

Dear Crackerlilo,
So glad you find it helpful ;)

Dear Id It Is,
I agree. WE need to keep ourselves stimulated and vital thru all life stages.

Dear Heidi,
Hugs back at ya too, friend.

~Deb said...

People don't like it when I play games.

jane said...

I read something along these lines too & it said the lowest rate of alzheimers was among taxi drivers. It said because they constantly have to figure out the faster route immediately, communicate with passengers, figure change, time, etc. Their brains are just always going.
Anyways, this article I read made me start playing sudoku so I have to THINK.
This is a great article you've written Dr. Deb, thank you for sharing.

east village idiot said...

I better print this post out and save it! I'm sure it will come in handy sooner than I care to admit!

Rose said...

That is so good to know...I will certainly as I already do now keep my brian stimulated....that way I can stay healthy longer.

dragonflyfilly said...

Hi Deb, yeah, big bird sightings are one of my favourite activities...

i'm curious about this recent article: is it entirely accurate that the aging brain becomes less efficent? i thought that it just processed information differently from a young brain. (and i'm talking about healthy brains, not ones atrophying from lack of use)

"N" Search of Ecstasy said...

This is my visit to your site and I just wanted to tell that I think the information you provide is a wonderful resource.


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Tombotts,
Sorry to hear that.

Dear Jane,
What an incredible statistic!

Dear EVI,
You are so funny. I don't think you'll be needing it though.

Dear Rose,
I really hate when I find my mind not working as keenly is it once did. I'm going to continue doing anything to help keep me sharp and alert.

Dear Dragonflyfilly,
Yes, the brain becomes less efficient, so to speak. It processes differently too...but as a result of atrophy.

Dear "N" Search,
Thank you so much...what a nice thing to say. I'm going to visit your blog now.


brooklyn babe said...

That's so funny, just as I was saying, how do I keep my brain more active, scroll down, and viola... thanks!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Brooklyn Babe,
Now, that's what I call FATE.


A Flowered Purse said...

Thanks for all those tips LOL On homer thats my hubbys favorite and they look alike! I needed those tips I am constantly forgetting stuff. Especially now that I am a stay at home mom, my brain needs some challenging!
Have a great week Dr Deb and Happy Psychoanalysis celebration week!!

for_the_lonely said...

I am 8 for 10 in the list....not too shabby! LOL

I hope that you have a wonderful Valentine's Day!


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Dianna,
I love, LOVE, the Simpsons. You and your hubby sound like a wonderful couple.

Dear Sarah,
Hey, that's awesome! Happy VDay to you and Jenn.


Kim said...

I LIVE for Crossword Puzzles. And not just any. The New York Times Crossword Puzzles. On Sunday.

Then I got hooked on this damned new game called Soduku. As I am more emotional than logical, it is exercising my brain in areas I didn't even know had synapses.

My brain is going to be so big I won't be able to life my head.

I hope I'm not undoing it all by listening to rock music.....

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear Kim,
I am tipping my hat to you. The Sunday times wow. My hubby loves crosswords and is hooked on Suduku as well!!


Aidan said...

Cheers for all this, some intriguing reads to be had here - and very good in themselves for keeping the mind working, whirring and generally ticking over...
Interesting indeed to read that about classical music. I tend to need music on, at least in the background, most of the time, whether reading, walking, word-puzzling as well (sometimes at the same time: hmm, too much maybe...) Not got into gardening, really, but will keep it in, er, mind for someday...
PS - Couldn't help but recall, though, Homer's outburst: "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home wine-making course, and forgot how to drive?'
Marge: 'That's because you were drunk!'
Homer: 'And how.....'

Wendy C. said...

I have also found that when I exercise more, my brain works better. Even 20-30 minutes of light jogging or a brisk walk can make a huge difference for me.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Dear AKR,
Love your Homer and Marge dialogue. I just adore that show. So witty. Thank you for your kind words. Wishing you well from across the pond here.

Dear Wendy,
True, exercise offers great things for the mind!