27 April 2012


As I've grown older, I notice that I sometimes have to struggle to recall a name, or a particular word.  Sometimes at home I'll walk from one room to the next, then forget what I was going to do there.  A decline in the brain's memory function is something that most of us experience.  But it need not be inevitable.  A report in the journal Neuroscience finds that "Education [alone] won't save your brain.  PhDs are as likely as high school dropouts to experience memory loss with old age.  Don't count on your job, either.  Those with a complex or demanding career may enjoy a limited advantage, but those benefits quickly dwindle after retirement.

"Engagement is the secret to success.  Those who are socially, mentally, and physically stimulated reliably show better cognitive performance with a brain that appears younger than its years .... Older people also continue to accumulate knowledge and to use what they know effectively, often to very old ages."

So there is hope for us all.  Engagement, stimulation.  I read voraciously, do crossword puzzles, play chess and Scrabble, and compose daily blog posts.  However, I'm not as socially engaged as many people, nor do I get as much exercise as I would like.  My goals are thus clear.

Here's something else to think about.  Brandon Keim in Wired Science writes that "To judge a risk more clearly, it may help to consider it in a foreign language.  A series of experiments on more than 300 people from the U.S. and Korea found that thinking in a second language reduced deep-seated, misleading biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived .... Psychologists say human reasoning is shaped by two distinct modes of thought, one that's systematic, analytical and cognition-intensive, and another that's fast, unconscious and emotionally charged .... it's plausible that communicating in a learned language forces people to be deliberate, reducing th role of potentially unreliable instinct.  Research also shows that immediate emotional reactions to emotively charged words are muted in non-native languages, further hinting at deliberation."

This ties in neatly with the first report, since learning and using a second (or third, or fourth) language stimulates our cognitive abilites.  Those people I know who are bilingual or trilingual tend to be more influenced by reason, and less by instinct.  Intuition is still valuable, I believe, but only if it is informed by fact and by diverse experience ~ the more, the better.

Here is a link to a website called Luminosity, which claims to "improve your brain health and performance" with a training program to enhance memory and attention.  I have not yet tried it, so I cannot attest to its effectiveness.  But it seems to me that we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Adios por ahora, y buena suerte.

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