mm386: Your Boomer brain: older just might be better

MUDGE’s Musings

It’s definitely a trend: as we Boomers age, we find our contemporaries in publishing responding by exposing us to more and more research conducted by our contemporaries in medicine and science regarding the Boomers’ new topic A: Aging.

The oldest of us in the first cohort of that giant bulge in the demographic boa constrictor is 62 years of age in 2008, and for the first time eligible for reduced social security retirement benefits. Suddenly, that far off distant time, old age, is approaching with uncomfortable alacrity, and self-absorbed as we’ve always been, stories on elder health have become more frequent as they’ve become more germane.

Without hardly searching, we found three such stories regarding aging brains and how they work this month alone.

Brain story no. 1. Exercise!

nytimes

Exercise Your Brain, or Else You’ll … Uh …

Technology | By KATIE HAFNER | Published: May 3, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — When David Bunnell, a magazine publisher who lives in Berkeley, Calif., went to a FedEx store to send a package a few years ago, he suddenly drew a blank as he was filling out the forms.

“I couldn’t remember my address,” said Mr. Bunnell, 60, with a measure of horror in his voice. “I knew where I lived, and I knew how to get there, but I didn’t know what the address was.”

Mr. Bunnell is among tens of millions of baby boomers who are encountering the signs, by turns amusing and disconcerting, that accompany the decline of the brain’s acuity: a good friend’s name suddenly vanishing from memory; a frantic search for eyeglasses only to find them atop the head; milk taken from the refrigerator then put away in a cupboard.

“It’s probably one of the most frightening aspects of the changes we undergo as we age,” said Nancy Ceridwyn, director of educational initiatives at the American Society on Aging. “Our memories are who we are. And if we lose our memories we lose that groundedness of who we are.”

At the same time, boomers are seizing on a mounting body of evidence that suggests that brains contain more plasticity than previously thought, and many people are taking matters into their own hands, doing brain fitness exercises with the same intensity with which they attack a treadmill.

Never had much in the way of physical skill; indeed, my partially torn Achilles tendon that has been dogging me for nine months now was injured while doing nothing more challenging than walking.

Never had much in the way of looks: yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s portrait at the top of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© has actually been softened to protect gentle digestive organs.

Always have counted on my brains to get anywhere in life. The thought of losing acuity to Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke or simply age is frightening to me.

And I know many share this fear. And, the U.S. entrepreneur is never one to pass up a selling opportunity.

Decaying brains, or the fear thereof, have inspired a mini-industry of brain health products — not just supplements like coenzyme Q10, ginseng and bacopa, but computer-based fitter-brain products as well.

Nintendo’s $19.99 Brain Age 2, a popular video game of simple math and memory exercises, is one. Posit Science’s $395 computer-based “cognitive behavioral training” exercises are another. MindFit, a $149 software-based program, combines cognitive assessment of more than a dozen different skills with a personalized training regimen based on that assessment. And for about $10 a month, worried boomers can subscribe to Web sites like Lumosity.com and Happy-Neuron.com, which offer a variety of cognitive training exercises.

The excellent news is that the entrepreneurs’ hype may have some basis in science

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Exercise Your Brain, or Else You’ll … Uh … – New York Times

The good news for yr (justifiably) humble svt? Not likely to tear my other Achilles exercising my brain!

“There is a gradual growing awareness that challenging your brain can have positive effects,” Dr. Cohen said. He said the plasticity of the brain is directly related to the production of new dendrites, the branched, tree-like neural projections that carry electrical signals through the brain “Every time you challenge your brain it will actually modify the brain,” he said. “We can indeed form new brain cells, despite a century of being told it’s impossible.”

So, exercising one’s brain to create new brain cells is a good idea. Do we have to pay the entrepreneurs for flashy plastic gadgets to exercise? Not necessarily so, although MUDGE is hardly likely to pass up a shopping opportunity.

Brain story no. 2. Exercise by innovating!

One grows up believing that we all become set in our ways, creatures of habit, a characteristic that we think becomes more prevalent as we age.

Doesn’t have to be. In fact, breaking out of habits turns out to be an excellent means of building brain cells. Who knew?

nytimes

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

Business | By JANET RAE-DUPREE | Published: May 4, 2008

HABITS are a funny thing. We reach for them mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of familiar routine. “Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd,” William Wordsworth said in the 19th century. In the ever-changing 21st century, even the word “habit” carries a negative connotation.

So it seems antithetical to talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation. But brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits; once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners. “But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’ ” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

So, here’s an interesting way to exercise one’s brain: put yourself in new situations, and deal with them.

“Getting into the stretch zone is good for you,” Ms. Ryan says in “This Year I Will… .” “It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. Continuously stretching ourselves will even help us lose weight, according to one study. Researchers who asked folks to do something different every day — listen to a new radio station, for instance — found that they lost and kept off weight. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general.”

This story is directed at people of all ages, but we with the longest standing habits can’t help but take it to heart.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits? – New York Times

Developed an interesting new habit out of the blue last year: blogging. Creating web content (however nanocosmic) rather than consuming media content as I had most of the previous fifty-some years of life.

I can only hope that I have created some brand new brain cells as a result of creating this new habit, without killing too many of those of faithful reader. smile_zipit

Brain story no. 3. Not forgetful — I just have more to remember!

I can’t remember your name, sorry. Not because I am failing — I hope! It’s because I have, after so many years, so many names and faces to remember.

But, give me enough time, kid, and I’ll probably remember your name, and other relevant facts about you.

In fact, if I seem distracted or easily distractible, that might be my brain working better than yours!

nytimes

Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain

Research | By SARA REISTAD-LONG | Published: May 20, 2008

When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong.

Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.

The studies are analyzed in a new edition of a neurology book, “Progress in Brain Research.”

Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful.

“It may be that distractibility is not, in fact, a bad thing,” said Shelley H. Carson, a psychology researcher at Harvard whose work was cited in the book. “It may increase the amount of information available to the conscious mind.”

For example, in studies where subjects are asked to read passages that are interrupted with unexpected words or phrases, adults 60 and older work much more slowly than college students. Although the students plow through the texts at a consistent speed regardless of what the out-of-place words mean, older people slow down even more when the words are related to the topic at hand. That indicates that they are not just stumbling over the extra information, but are taking it in and processing it.

When both groups were later asked questions for which the out-of-place words might be answers, the older adults responded much better than the students.

After all, we Boomers are the first generation that learned to do our school homework while watching television. Talk about working through distraction!

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Memory Loss – Aging – Alzheimer’s Disease – Aging Brains Take In More Information, Studies Show – Health – New York Times

At a conference I attended long ago, centered on the then-hot topic of Knowledge Management, about which I have written previously in this space, one or more of the expert presenters revealed their theory of the hierarchy of learning.

Start with:

  1. Data; which given time and context becomes:
  2. Information; which given much more time and much more extensive context might become:
  3. Knowledge; which, given even more contextual processing, in the fullness of a richly realized life, might, eventually, become:
  4. Wisdom; that prized, elusive attribute in a person or institution that is spoken of far more than exists.

The organizers of that conference were trendy, but not all that ambitious. They didn’t call its topic Wisdom Management, after all.

Maybe they just hadn’t aged enough to even conceive of such a thing.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE
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