COGNITIVE ABILITY

June 10, 2017


In 2013 my mother died of Alzheimer’s disease.  She was ninety-two (92) years old.  My father suffered significant dementia and passed away in 2014.  He was ninety-three (93) and one day.  We provided a birthday cake for him but unfortunately, he was unable to eat because he did not understand the significance and had no appetite remaining at all. Dementia is an acquired condition characterized by a decline in at least two cognitive domains (e.g., loss of memory, attention, language, or visuospatial or executive functioning) that is severe enough to affect social or occupational functioning. The passing of both parents demanded a search for methodologies to prolong cognitive ability. What, if anything, can we do to remain “brain healthy” well into our eighties and nineties?  Neurologists tell us we all will experience diminished mental abilities as we age but can we lengthen our brain’s ability to reason and perform?  The answer is a resounding YES.  Let’s take a look at activities the medical profession recommends to do just that.

  • READ—What is the difference between someone who does not know how to read and someone who does know but never cracks a book? ANSWER: Absolutely nothing.   If the end result is knowledge and/or pleasure gained, they both are equal.  Reading books and other materials with vivid imagery is not only fun, it also allows us to create worlds in our own minds. Researchers have found that visual imagery is simply automatic. Participants were able to identify photos of objects faster if they’d just read a sentence that described the object visually, suggesting that when we read a sentence, we automatically bring up pictures of objects in our minds. Any kind of reading provides stimulation for your brain, but different types of reading give different experiences with varying benefits. Stanford University researchers have found that close literary reading in particular gives your brain a workout in multiple complex cognitive functions, while pleasure reading increases blood flow to different areas of the brain. They concluded that reading a novel closely for literary study and thinking about its value is an effective brain exercise, more effective than simple pleasure reading alone.
  • MAKE MORE MISTAKES—Now, we are talking about engaging life or JUST DO IT. Every endeavor must be accompanied by calculating the risks vs. reward always keeping safety and general well-being in mind.  It took me a long time to get the courage to write and publish but the rewards have been outstanding on a personal level.
  • LEARN FROM OTHER’S MISTAKES—Less painful than “learning the hard way” but just as beneficial. Reading about the efforts of successful people and the mistakes they made along the way can go a long way to our avoiding the same pitfalls.
  • LEARN TO CONTROL YOUR BREATHING—This one really surprises me. Medical textbooks suggest that the normalrespiratory rate for adults is only 12 breaths per minute at rest. Older textbooks often provide even smaller values (e.g., 8-10 breaths per minute). Most modern adults breathe much faster (about 15-20 breaths per minute) than their normal breathing frequency. The respiratory rates in the sick persons are usually higher, generally about 20 breaths/min or more. This site quotes numerous studies that testify that respiratory rates in terminally sick people with cancer, HIV-AIDS, cystic fibrosis and other conditions is usually over 30 breaths/min.  Learning to control respiratory rate is one factor in providing a healthy brain.
  • EXERCISE-– This seems to be a no-brainer (pardon the pun) but thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people NEVER exercise. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines: Aerobic activity. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.  That is the minimum.
  • VISUALIZE YOUR OUTCOME—You have heard this before from world-class athletes. Picture yourself accomplishing the goal or goals you have established.  Make winning a foregone conclusion.
  • FOCUS ON THE LITTLE THINGS—For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. You have often heard ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’.  People who accomplish pay attention to detail.
  • WRITE—Nothing can clear the mind like writing down your thoughts. You have to organize, plan, visualize and execute when writing.
  • LEARN A NEW LANGUAGE—This is a tough one for most adults but, learning a new language stimulates areas of your brain. Scientists have long held the theory that the left and right hemisphere of your brain control different functions when it comes to learning. The left hemisphere is thought to control language, math and logic, while the right hemisphere is responsible for spatial abilities, visual imagery, music and your ability to recognize faces. The left hemisphere of your brain also controls the movement on the right side of your body. The left hemisphere of the brain contains parts of the parietal lobe, temporal lobe and the occipital lobe, which make up your language control center. In these lobes, two regions known as the Wernicke area and the Broca area allow you to understand and recognize, read and speak language patterns — including the ability to learn foreign languages.
  • SLEEP-– The evidence is clear that better brain and physical health in older people is related to getting an average of seven to eight hours of sleep every 24 hours,” said Sarah Lock, the council’s executive director and AARP senior vice president. The evidence on whether naps are beneficial to brain health in older adults is still unclear. If you must, limit napping to 30 minutes in the early afternoon. Longer naps late in the day can disrupt nighttime sleep. Get up at the same time every day, seven days a week. (You will not like this one.) Keep the bedroom for sleeping, not watching TV or reading or playing games on your smartphone or tablet.
  • DIET—A “brain-healthy” diet can go a long way to promoting cognitive ability. Keeping weight off and maintaining an acceptable body mass index (BMI) can certainly promote improved mental ability.
  • LEARN TO PROGRAM-– This is another tough one. Programming is difficult, tedious, time-consuming and can be extremely frustrating.  You must have the patience of Job to be a successful programmer, but it is mind-stimulating and can benefit cognitive ability.
  • TRAVEL—As much as you can, travel. Travel is a marvelous learning experience and certainly broadens an individual’s outlook.  New experiences, new and interesting people, new languages, all contribute to mental stimulation and improve cognitive ability.
  • LESSEN MIND-NUMING TELEVISION—Enough said here. Read a good book.
  • APPLY THE KNOWLEDGE YOU HAVE—Trust me on this one, you are a lot smarter than you think you are. Apply what you know to any one given situation. You will be surprised at the outcome and how your success will fuel additional successes.
  • REDUCE EXPOSURE TO SOCIAL MEDIA—Social medial can become a time-robbing exercise that removes you from real life. Instead of reading about the experiences of others, bring about experiences in your own life.

CONCLUSIONS:  As always, I welcome your comments.

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