It is estimated that as many as 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 can be affected by dementia!
World Mental Health Day was on 10th October. So, it seems an appropriate time to tell you about my mother, and hopefully inspire you into taking better care of yourself!
My mother, who has lived a full life, well-educated with a university degree in Botony and Zoology, a primary school science teacher, pianist, well-travelled, wife and mother of 3 children, an active member of various societies and charities, approaching her 85th birthday, has just been diagnosed with “Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH)”. It’s a condition caused by an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles (cavities or spaces) of your brain. It’s not always diagnosed, because its symptoms are similar to other medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Although there isn’t a cure as such, it can be “managed” with the insertion of a shunt, which is basically a tube connecting the brain to the abdomen, allowing the excess fluid to drain back into the body.
Before a possible operation to insert the shunt, there will be a test to understand the impact of draining between 200-300ml of fluid – both on her mobility and cognitive abilities.
I am convinced this “illness” has been caused by a lack of mobility. Two years ago, Mum took a fall and fractured her pelvis. With the lack of mobility, there has been a gradual decline in contributions, physical activity, interaction with others, short term memory, and her general cognitive ability. I suppose one thing led to another.
Needless to say, I’ve been reading a little about the brain, how it functions and how to make it healthy! Like any part of the body, if you treat it well over your lifetime, then you can develop it, protect it, reduce the risk of sickness, and remain fit and healthy for longer!
So, what’s important for your brain…?
TRAIN YOUR BRAIN!
It’s natural that as you get older, your cognitive skills will decline. But your brain can learn and grow if you train it on a regular basis. It’s a process called “Brain Plasticity” or “Neuroplasticity”.
Embracing a new activity, that forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice, can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy!
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL EXERCISE
Research has shown that regular physical exercise is one way to improve cognitive functions like memory recall, problem solving, concentration, and attention to detail. However, it is not clear if the physical aspect alone boosts your brain or if a combination of other factors, like the mental challenge of the activity, the frequency you do it, and the desire to improve, also contribute.
Take swimming, for example. It has obvious cardiovascular and muscle-building benefits, but is also a very technical sport, which requires constant thinking, processing, and learning. As well as being mindful of your breathing and your swimming stroke, you can measure your progress in terms of endurance and speed, which will motivate you to practice your skills more, to become a better swimmer.
A brain training activity doesn’t always have to be exercise related. Research has found that creative outlets like painting and other art forms, learning a musical instrument, doing expressive or autobiographical writing, and learning a language, can improve cognitive function. All these activities can have a positive impact on memory and the processing speed of your brain!
LEARN SOMETHING NEW!
1) Pick on one new additional activity at a time. This will focus your attention and give you a better chance of improvement. With progress comes motivation to improve more.
2) Sign up for a class. Classes are a good way to learn the basics of any new activity, especially one that requires specific skills, like painting or music or learning a language.
3) Start small and make the routine first. Build the routine and consistency. Be fully committed: schedule it and do it. After you have the routine embedded into your daily life, you can increase the time.
MAKE THE CORRECT ACTIVITY
No matter which new activity you choose, make sure it follows three guidelines to maximize brain training:
a) Challenging. You must challenge your brain so that it can grow. This is why choosing a “new” activity is so beneficial. It engages your brain to learn something new and offers the chance to improve. Alternatively, you can raise the bar for an existing activity. You may not have the challenge of learning something new, but you will have the challenge of increasing your skill set, knowledge and improving your technique.
b) Complexity. A complex activity not only strikes a match of excitement but forces your brain to work on specific thought processes like problem solving and creative thinking. Psychological Science research has found that adults aged 60yrs to 90yrs, who did new and complex activities (e.g. playing a musical instrument, photography, quilting) for an average of 16 hours per week for three months scored better on working and long-term memory tests than those who did more familiar activities like reading and doing crossword puzzles.
c) Deliberate Practice. Practice makes perfect, and that goes for brain function, too. You can’t improve memory if you don’t work at it. The more time you devote to engaging your brain, the more it benefits. But rather than just “practice”, you will have a greater impact if you make “deliberate practice” – which is based on 3 core ingredients
- Focused Attention
- Specific Goals
- Immediate Feedback
Your activity should require some level of constant practice, but the goal is not to strive for vast improvements. It is the constant repetition of working to improve, and not the quest for mastery, that can have the greatest impact.
So, returning to my Mum, and trying to recover some of the cognitive decline she has encountered over the past couple of years, we are trying to encourage her to pick up the piano again.
What new activity are you going to start, for the long-term benefit of your brain?
If you would like to discuss or get feedback on your ideas, then contact us at Klass Academy.