Keep Your Brain Young!

  Have you ever noticed the vast difference between the cognitive abilities of people in their eighties and nineties?  Some of these differences are due to genetics, and some are due to injuries or lack of injuries.  But some, you can be sure, are due to the amount of mental engagement those individuals have in their world on a daily basis.  How do we intentionally help those we are caring for, and even ourselves, engage more with the world around them? 

  1. Appeal to the senses.  If you are working with a patient or loved one who is not mentally engaged at all, be sure to try and involve several senses.  Smells can trigger different areas of the brain than verbal or auditory communication.  Try using essential oils, or even brewing coffee or making cookies when you're with them.  Some people respond very well and become more mentally alert when good smells are close.  If you know someone has freshly mown grass, try going for a walk to smell the grass. This may be particularly helpful if the person grew up in the country and may associate the smell as mown hay.  Use tactile sensory activities with them, as well.  Think soft, rough, corrugated, corduroy, silky, scratchy, woven, etc.  Some people are heavily in tune with their sense of touch and will respond better if their tactile needs are met.  Visual and auditory stimulation is usually quite easy to maneuver in every situation, but also think about taste.  Some people respond well to sour, sweet & bitter tastes and it will encourage involvement and engagement with the world around them.  These suggestions can be helpful for in cases where mental aging or engagement has become nearly atrophied, but they can also be useful in less severe cases and in every day life for the rest of us, especially if your life is becoming too mundane and similar.  Try to focus on different sensory activities and enjoy the mental engagement to your surroundings that results.  Even young students who are taking tests notice a difference if they smell peppermint before taking an exam!
  2. Another important factor in keeping your brain young is getting enough sleep!  I know that this is particularly difficult, especially when we age.  Sometimes our bodies become sore and we cannot sleep any longer.  Sometimes our rhythm of sleep is broken and it is difficult to get back into a healthy pattern, but do your best.  Your mental health and clarity depends a great deal on being able to sleep.  Sleep is when our bodies heal.  It is also astounding how many problems in the real world are worked out during sleep. 
  3. Work on puzzles.  You do not need to become a jigsaw master, but working on crosswords, logic problems, Sudoku and other puzzles can help keep your mind young and active.  In addition it will give you a good topic of conversation with others if you become stumped.  It's always more interesting to try to solve a crossword clue than to talk about the weather for the 4th time in a day.  It also tends to lead to other topics of conversation...and that is good on a number of levels.
  1. Social engagement.  Conversation with others is good for our mental pliability.  You never know what will come up in conversation.  The act of conversing with others has certain rules, but the topics are never quite the same.  It also tends to present other puzzles that might keep your brain young as you try to solve them.  If you have a friend who is have a particular problem with their plumbing or a gardening question, it might be an opportunity for you to help them troubleshoot or solve the problem or puzzle. 
  2. Eating right and staying fit will also help you to keep your brain young.  Neurotransmitters are produced in the gut.  Exercise stimulates certain growth in neurons.  You need whole body health in order to have a brain that is healthy.  It will never be enough to sit all day and do crosswords.  Your brain is connected to your body.  If one part is unhealthy, the whole thing is unhealthy.  Working on your health is incredibly important if you want to keep an active, supple mind. 

  Our brains and our mental agility are so important to our quality of life & for the quality of life of those we care for.  It is our duty to do all we can to keep them in top shape so that we can continue to benefit the world around us even as we enter our sunset years.  Let us not give up or give in too early.  After all, there are a great many examples of men and women who contributed great things to the world after they were quite old according to the world's standards.  They did not lie down and atrophy.  They pressed onward, and greatly influenced the world!

Remembering Forgetfulness


 Forgetfulness seems to be a problem in the aging population.  Honestly, it’s become a problem in people much younger than ever before.  Things like stress, lack of sleep and underactive thyroid can be underlying issues when it comes to forgetfulness, as can alcohol use.  In this article we’ll be talking about common forgetfulness, not the deeper & more serious issues like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  If you suspect these might be playing a role in your own forgetfulness or that of a loved one, please seek help from a medical professional right away.  There are some promising things coming out in that field, and the sooner you get help, the better it is for treatment.


Forgetfulness seems to become more prevalent after we have a few years under our belts, but there are things that can make it worse than you’ve noticed before.  Let’s start with lack of sleep.  During the process of sleep, our bodies are not just resting.  This is the time period when things in our short-term memory are being transferred to our long-term memory.  If your sleep is interrupted too many times, this working process is not completed and it is impossible for those memories to “stick” in long term memory.  Be sure you’re getting adequate amounts of sleep by sticking to an evening routine.  Turn off devices with light emitting from screens.  Be careful of what you eat and do right before bed to be sure it will not upset your sleep.  If you continue to have trouble sleeping, talk with your doctor about other things that you can do to help overcome the insomnia.  You will most likely see an increase in your ability to remember as soon as your sleep issues are dealt with.


Forgetfulness can also be increased in people with heavy amounts of stress.  Stress can be caused by good or bad changes in your life.  If you have a large amount of stressors in your life, do not be surprised if your memory is compromised.  If you’ve moved, gotten a new job (even if it’s a good shift) and had a loved one die in the past few months, your stress levels will go up and your memory will likely be affected.  If you have enough stress that you are feeling out of control & unable to cope, be sure to talk with a counselor about it so that you can get the help you need to move forward.

Forgetfulness can also point to other health issues.  If you are feeling like your brain is foggy a lot of the time, it may be pointing you to look at your thyroid.  Especially if the brain fog is accompanied by extreme fatigue, weight gain and hair loss, you should have your thyroid levels checked.  Once you know whether it is an issue or not, you’ll be able to choose a course of treatment that will work for you.

Multitasking is another, often overlooked cause of forgetfulness.  When we multitask, our brain is not allowed to put things into our short-term memory securely.  We switch to the next task before the thought is allowed to sit.  If we add to that sleepless nights, our brains do not have a chance to take those short-term memories and transfer them to long-term storage.  When we multitask, we are, in effect, training our brains to forget just as quickly as a task is performed.  If we do this often enough, it becomes the standard by which our brains operate.  If we are consistently checking our phones, for instance, in the middle of another task at five minute intervals, our brain will automatically make allowance for that and switch off to check our phone even if we were not planning to do so.  Brains thrive on habit formation.  Make your little habits work for you instead of against you.  Set a time or two each day to deal with messages that might come through on your phone or email.  Decide not to check them other than that.  If someone urgently needs to reach you, ask them to call you so you know it’s important.   Force your brain to attend to longer and longer periods where you’re working on only one thing at a time.  You’ll notice that it is difficult, but it also feels great!

Lack of hydration can cause a decrease in your mental awareness. B-12 deficiencies can contribute.  Lack of exercise can slow you up enough to decrease acuity.  There are a wide host of things that can contribute or cause forgetfulness.  Be sure to address your health from an overall health perspective.  You may be amazed at how much all of those small changes can add up to huge life change! Most importantly, remember forgetfulness!  Forgetfulness is your body’s way of screaming at you to let you know that there is something that is not right within your functional and cognitive systems.  It is something that you need to fix in order to be healthy.  Do not neglect it!