Making the best decisions for our health is not always easy. But as many of us approach middle age — or even after we’ve been here for a while — we begin to pay more attention to physical changes and speculate a little about what our path might look like as we age. I certainly hope that when I retire, I’ll be able to fully enjoy all life has to offer, whether that’s spending time with grandchildren (can’t wait to be a bubbie J), traveling or seriously pursuing hobbies and interests there wasn’t always quite enough time for.
Many people start focusing on their health by looking at their diets. (Goodbye, daily chocolate fix.) Or joining a gym. (Hello, yoga pants.) And for many of us, the plan stops there.
But aging affects more than just our bodies. Even healthy brains experience inevitable changes as we age, which impact our overall cognitive health. For example, have you ever parked the car, gotten out, looked back and thought, “Wow, I could have pulled up more?” This is a completely normal decline in our visual spatial skills.
And have you noticed that it’s a little tougher to focus and concentrate than it used to be? I’m glad my textbook reading days are over! And don’t even get me started on word-finding difficulties, which happens when I hear a word come out of my mouth that was not the word I intended to say. And finally, everyone’s favorite question: “Where did I put my (insert phone, keys, purse, car, etc.)?”
While many of us notice these small, normal changes around age 50, we will continue to decline in these predictable areas if we’re lucky enough to live a long life. And while memory is often most important to us in terms of brain health, it is not an isolated skill, but instead relies upon these other brain functions in order to work well.
Some of us may laugh about these changes with our friends, but many keep these changes to ourselves, afraid of what they may mean. But there’s no need to feel embarrassed or afraid because it’s happening to all of us! Which begs the question, if we take action with diet and exercise to strengthen and hone our aging bodies, why do we not make the same commitment to fight back and take action to strengthen our aging brains?
Because we can fight back! Our brains have the built-in capacity to learn, adapt and change throughout our lives, often referred to as neuroplasticity. And while there are several lifestyle factors linked to brain health, current research favors mental stimulation, specifically cognitive training, for playing a critical role in building brain resiliency.
One of the few research-based programs on the market addressing these issues is Mind Aerobics, developed by the New England Cognitive Center. The specific skills challenged in each class session include:
- Reaction time, how quickly we react to the world around us
- Visual/spatial skills, critical to minimizing the risk of falls as well as helping with our parking skills
- Attention and concentration
- Memory, broken down into not only short and long-term, but also visual memory, auditory memory, kinesthetic memory
- Problem-solving skills
The classes have added cognitive punch by being held in a group setting, so socialization is included in the package, giving your brain quite a workout … with no workout clothes required!
Lynn Breuer is director of chronic disease management at Jewish Family Service.
Mind Aerobics classes are forming for January. For more information, contact Mary Martella at (248) 592-2671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.