Life Times Newsletter

May/June 2002
Vol. 4, No. 3

Keeping your brain in good shape

"Oh, itís just one of those senior moments" is a comment often heard, especially as we get older. It is often used to identify moments of confusion or forgetfulness.

These moments occur spontaneously, just like stopping to catch our breath if we exert ourselves more than usual. Do you remember the last time you, or someone you know, had a "senior moment"? Are you concerned that this may be happening more often than you might want to admit?

Some recent research dispels some of our previous thoughts on the slowing down of the brain, which results in forgetfulness and possibly dementia. This research offers hope that something can be done or changed to improve the working of brains.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has done a lot to bring this matter to our attention. In the January/February 2002 issue of AARPís Modern Maturity magazine, Richard Restak, MD, says in his article called "All in Your Head" that "Our brains have an innate capacity for change no matter how old we are," adding that "the older brain is more resilient than we think."

This was proven in part through research that compared young and old subjects as they performed memory tasks equally well, even though the brain waves of the older subjects were weaker. This was explained by the fact that the older brains rerouted some of the messages across underused areas of the brain.

The report also stated that the older brain can partially rebuild itself. Great progress is being made to understand the workings of our brains, and there is great hope that within the next decade or so, there will be even more progress toward human therapies.

So how do we keep our brains in good shape? Robert Friedland, MD, of Case Western University in Cleveland, suggests the following: Learn something new. Try something different, like painting or sculpting. Memorize poetry or songs. Learn to identify as many trees and birds as you can. Play an instrument or table tennis. This might be a good time to play the video games you didnít have time for when you were younger.

Since the brain is a muscle, keep exercising it. Keep it healthy by eating wisely and get-ting a good nightís sleep. Reduce your stress. Be aware that a deficiency in either vitamin B-12 or folate can cause forgetfulness. Vitamin E research has shown promise that it may protect the brain from some effects of aging.

Other research suggests that use of estrogen may improve both verbal and visual memory. And last but not least, caffeine in coffee or other soft drinks stimulates your central nervous system and helps you become more alert. But drink in moderation.

Elizabeth Reinsch, LCSW/ACSW
Human Development Specialist

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller