In the 1990s, researchers learned the truth about plasticity – the brain’s ability to birth new neurons at any age. Where once brain researchers had focused on repairing old cells, they now turned their attention towards creating newer, healthier ones. For those with memory loss, mental decline and learning disabilities, the findings were beyond remarkable.
The research made its way to the public relatively quickly, creating a near tidal wave of both products that worked (like personal brain training), and many that didn’t (“miracle brain pills”).
Despite the hype, legitimate sources like the Alzheimer’s Association agree that there are four realistic approaches to maintaining a healthy brain as one ages. These include:
- Mental activity
- Social activity
- Physical activity
- Proper diet
For an average person, doing word games at home is a great way to strengthen cognitive skills and maintain the brain, but for those who are experiencing more serious age-related mental decline, LearningRx provides intense, one-on-one cognitive skills training.
“Many of our students have come to our center because a grandparent noticed the child was struggling and brought them to us for testing and training,” says LearningRx Sherman-Gainesville Director Jill Sheppard, “but our students are both children and adults. We can help anyone 4 years old to 104 years old to learn, read and remember better. For adults with cognitive struggles, we can help with memory, stroke recovery and other age-related cognition issues.”
One graduate of the LearningRx program, 82-year-old Virginia Romero of Shreveport, credits one-on-one brain training with her significant cognitive skills improvements. After experiencing a stroke, Virginia couldn’t remember where she lived or how old she was. She contacted LearningRx to see if they could help. Today, Virginia is self-confident, enjoying novels and beating her friends at cards.
“Everything moves better and faster [in my brain] than it did before,” says Virginia. “When I read, I understand and retain more than what I did before. The main thing is that it gave me hope that I’m not really at the end of my life. I’m 82 years old, but I’m still not ready to go and just give up. I’m still looking forward to new things, and LearningRx has certainly played a big, big part in that.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, research shows that regular engagement in social activities helps maintain brain vitality. Social activities include emotional support, work, volunteering, travel and participation in clubs.
A 2001 study* analyzing the impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on adults over 65 found that opportunities to participate and attend ongoing cultural activities (singing, painting and poetry reading, for example) had healthy and encouraging benefits, including:
* better overall health
* fewer visits to a physician
* rate of need for medication decreased
* fewer falls
* vision problems diminished
* a significant decrease on the Geriatric Depression Scale.
The general consensus? Maintain your friends, relationships and activities and you’ll maintain your brain health.
You already know that staying physically active is good for the body, but research now shows that even light to moderate aerobic exercise improves oxygen consumption, which helps the brain to function better. In the elderly, aerobic exercise such as walking, bicycling or yoga has actually been found to reduce brain cell loss.
Ask a friend or family member to join you (or join a class), and you’ll be adding the benefit of social interaction.
No real surprise here: What’s good for the body, is good for the brain.
Like many body organs, the brain operates best when blood glucose is stable. Lack of concentration and other mental lapses can readily occur when blood glucose levels dip or surge. Ways to keep glucose stable include:
- Eating complex carbohydrates instead of simple sugars
- Balancing carbohydrates by eating them with small amounts of protein, beneficial fats and fiber
- Snacking throughout the day instead of consuming giant meals
- Eating breakfast
Although you may not be able to completely stave off the effects of age-related cognitive decline, incorporating mental, social and physical exercise, as well as a balanced diet may be your best route to maintaining brain health.
If you are interested in seeing what the life-changing power of one-on-one brain training can do for you, please call our office at 903-487-5959 to schedule an appointment.
* Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Center for Mental Health Studies, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the American Association of Retired People (AARP)