Haims: Memory games vs. lifestyle when it comes to brain health (column)
There are many published studies indicating that age-related memory loss may be mitigated with physical activity, reading, cultural activities, ongoing education and learning. Additionally, there are many studies that suggest that computer brain-training games may have some benefits. So, what’s fact and what’s conjecture?
In the world of computerized brain training games, deceptive advertising practices came to a head in a lawsuit between the FTC and the creators of the Lumosity “brain-training” program.
The FTC charged that claims made by Luminosity that its program improves performance in school, at work or in athletics and delays or protects against age-related decline in memory were unfounded.
While Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, stated that “Lumosity simply did not have the science to back up its ads,” this does not mean that computer brain-training games are ineffective. They do serve a purpose however; it may be less valuable than leading a physically active, intellectually challenging and socially engaged life.
Simply, the brain is a muscle that can be exercised in many ways. However, it needs quality fuel to function at its best. What you put in your body has proven to be as important as the cognitive exercise you give it.
Memory naturally wanes as we advance in age. There are many contributing factors for memory loss, some are preventable and others are not. Research has found that one of the factors we have little influence on is brain shrinkage. While the brain will naturally lose mass with age, studies show that by keeping the brain physically and mentally active leads to a slowdown of the degenerative process. This is known as brain maintenance.
Reduced blood flow caused by narrowing of the arteries and a decrease in the growth of new capillaries are major contributing factors to cognitive decline. Two parts of the brain that are particularly impacted are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These parts of the brain are important for learning, memory, planning and other complex mental activities.
Cardiovascular disease, chronic stress and high cholesterol all lend themselves to reducing blood and oxygen flow within the brain. This is why many physicians and researchers support that exercise, a healthy diet and mentally challenging activities are beneficial in maintaining a healthy brain.
The following may be the three most important factors that may improve brain function and memory:
Moderate Exercise — Simply walking around at least once a day can increase oxygen flow to the brain, support the formation of new neural and vascular connections and help promote a sharp mind.
Get Social — Playing thinking games such as bridge, cards or Rummikub in a social environment has been proven to help the mind. Researchers have found that individuals who engage in social and cognitively stimulating activities have increased the number of neurons in their brains.
Diet — A quality diet will not only benefit your heart health but your brain health as well.
Foods that are good for brain health and heart health include plenty of vegetables, some fruits, legumes, whole-grain cereals, fish and lean cuts of meat.
While much research has shown that computer brain games have shown to offer little to meaningful improvements in cognitive abilities, they are not all without purpose. They have shown to aid with remembering sequencing i.e., getting better at crosswords, puzzles and Sudoku. However, these skills tend to be very specific and do not show a lot of transfer to other critical cognitive functions. Computer brain training games alone are not going to assist someone in remembering where they left their keys or recalling how to drive to the market.
If it is your goal to improve cognitive function and computer brain games alone are not helping, perhaps you may be better off getting aerobic exercise rather than being sedentary in front of the computer playing games.
Don’t wait until the signs of cognitive decline appear. Be proactive now. Good brain health is something that needs to be thought about as a lifetime commitment. Stimulating the neurochemistry of the brain helps it stay healthy.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.