Posted by Ramneek S. Bhogal, DC, DABCI on Aug 19, 2020 2:00:28 PM
Everything loses integrity over time. Nothing is exempt, not skin, bone, muscle, organs, or even our brains.
Similar to how we can slow down muscular atrophy with adequate exercise, we can reduce the rate of natural, age-related cognitive decline by regularly exercising our minds. An unfortunate aspect of diminished physical integrity is a reduction in functional baselines.
In other words, if your muscles have deteriorated, they won’t function as well as when they were operating at maximum integrity, you won’t be strong as you once were. Expected cognitive decline, or age-related cognitive decline, is similar. If we are not giving our brains a workout, this mental atrophy may progress a bit quicker than it needs to. It can go from normal, expected short-term memory decline to concerns about our brain health: long-term memory loss, language skills, cognition, judgment, and coordination.
As we get older, we stop doing many of the things we did when we were younger. For example, instead of being the person that hammers the nail, we become the person who tells others where to strike.
Although this is a much-deserved reprieve, this increase in sedentary behavior is often the beginning of normal age-related cognitive decline. We hit our 40s, and 50s become physically less active, delegating tasks to subordinates at the workplace, and sometimes even family members at home.
Hand-eye coordination is critical as well. As we age, not only do we start moving our bodies less, but we do fewer highly dexterous activities that challenge our brains to coordinate with our extremities in a visuospatial manner, such as hammering the nails mentioned above. To bring this full circle, a recent University of Maryland study proved that exercise training alters blood flow in the brain, and improves cognitive performance in older adults.
It’s essential to stay physically active, as well as mentally. Regular exercise and fine motor function activities can go a long way in slowing down expected cognitive decline. Then, when you add brain games into the mix, MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and more severe challenges become less of a concern.
There is a whole spectrum of people who will benefit from brain training games, and it’s not just seniors or middle-aged people. Take pilots, for example, even after they are trained and flight-ready, they are likely to use simulators and VR to keep their skills sharp. They need to keep those neurons firing to stay on top of their game.
Different activities will sharpen different areas: reaction time, general cognition, logic, and hand-eye coordination. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that there comes the point of diminishing returns. Once you’ve practiced something for a long time and gotten good at it, it isn’t as much of a work out for your mind.
An excellent example of this is chess. Chess is a game that stimulates multiple areas of the brain. It requires logic, strategy, and hand-eye coordination. However, once you get good at chess, you might want to switch things up with speed chess. By adding the timer, you are suddenly pushing your brain again, making it cycle through problems and solutions much faster. On top of this, you add a new level of hand dexterity. Now you are moving your hands across the board, reaching for specific pieces faster, as well as slapping the timer.
Solving crossword puzzles is another excellent example of a standard brain exercise. When you get good, you can further challenge your brain by trying to solve the entire puzzle by only answering the ‘down’ questions or only ‘across’.
Some of the best memory games for seniors emphasize short-term stimulation, logic, reaction-time, and hand-eye coordination.
Activities that are known to help stimulate multiple areas of the brain:
If you’re looking at the bullet points and wondering about the adage, ‘video games will rot your brain’, it’s recently been proven wrong. On the contrary, video-game-based brain training apps create a positive impact on brain-derived growth factor (BDNF), a brain protein that encourages growth and neuroplasticity. They also affect apolipoprotein E (APOE), an amino acid glycoprotein that makes fat transfer more efficiently in the brain. In the controlled study, researchers tested serum levels for BDNF and APOE, and both groups of test subjects completed a cognitive assessment using CANTAB software, which measured mental flexibility, memory, attention, speed, and problem-solving skills. After three weeks, there were higher serum levels of BDNF and APOE, and a significant improvement in most of the CANTAB measures was observed in the group using the brain training game app for 15 minutes per day.
Many enjoyable activities, skills, and hobbies promote cognitive health. Learning a new language is a fantastic way to create new neural pathways and improve memory and word recall. You can take language-learning a step further by learning sign language. Not only will you incorporate all of the benefits of learning a new language, but also practice a high level of fine motor function.
Like sign language, learning a musical instrument requires hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity and is an effective ‘cognitive intervention task’ for older adults. However, if music isn’t your cup of tea, simply creating a list and memorizing it is helpful.
Here are a few proven brain training activities:
However, all of the brain training games and helpful cognitive-enhancing activities in the world are useless if you don’t take care of yourself. Proper nutrition and regular adequate sleep are even more critical to your cognitive health than any brain game. So, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet of whole foods, take nutritional supplements when needed, and get plenty of rest. Try to avoid cigarettes and excessive alcohol. If you take the usual steps for every day, optimal well-being (eat well, sleep well, get regular exercise), and give your mind a daily workout with some of the brain training games or activities described in this article, you should be able to slow natural, age-related cognitive decline to a crawl.
 "Brain Training Games Enhance Cognitive Function in Healthy ...." 20 Apr. 2018, https://europepmc.org/article/pmc/pmc5930973. Accessed 10 Aug. 2020.
 "Instrument Playing as a Cognitive Intervention Task ... - Frontiers." https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00151/full. Accessed 10 Aug. 2020.
Lampit A, Hallock H, Valenzuela M. Computerized cognitive training in cognitively healthy older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of effect modifiers. PLoS Med. 2014;11(11):e1001756. Published 2014 Nov 18
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