Brain Class

The bell has rung, and brain class has begun. Norman Doidge, MD, and Sharon Begley, authors of “The Brain That Changes Itself” and “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain” respectively, have made the idea of brain fitness common knowledge, and the marketers are flooding the marketplace with verbiage that seduces and excites.

Lots of it is aimed at baby boomers, like me, who are worried that we will lose our faculties to Alzheimers.

Boomers have all had a close call or two with our ultimate fate and hold fewer illusions about mortality than we did when we were youngsters, yet we continue to expect to be vital right up to the bitter end.

There is a tremendous difference between Boomers though, and our predecessors, like my parents, who expected to reach retirement age with a pension and social security Sonavel and have the time for pursuit of hobbies, for example, or see the grandkids, or sleep in the hammock.

Not that Boomers are not going to do those things, but Boomers are looking at things like volunteering for example, retirement re-careering, rather a life of leisure, and that expectation is pumping a lot of purchasing energy towards staying healthy, anti-aging, and brain fitness purchases, for example, which is what the marketers are fomenting and preying upon. To counteract the marketing, we need to do some research.

Any brain class needs to start with an examination of the research out there, like the ACTIVE and IMPACT studies. The products of the Posit Science Brain Fitness folks were involved in those studies, and the studies indicate that there is some real value to using the Brain Fitness Program for seniors. Neural circuits involved in processing sound were exercised and renewed their ability to fire together, which provides the older brain a cognitive reserve, or an ability to re-route signals around trouble spots in the brain, and to hear with more acuity too.

For an excellent primer on the field, check out Brainfit for Life, written by Simon Evans, Ph.D. and Paul Burghardt, Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.

Their book is just chock full of nuggets pulled and culled from research that say, in so many words, “There are all these neat things you can do for your brain’s health!”

Their book gives me some sense that there is more to brain fitness than marketers hype. And I can do this too, I do not need to have a castle with many lightening rods and cadavers in order to enhance my brains fitness, so I thank Professors Evans and Burghardt for the relief that comes from that knowledge.

In their book, Brainfit for Life there is mention of research about the dual n back task, and fluid intelligence, and my reading of that research is very exciting, because the researchers are not involved in marketing any products related to their research.

Any brain class would have to include a mention of that work on the dual n back task.

And there are any number of knowledgeable web sites and brain class and brain fitness blogs and websites out there with information from any number of authorities.

Brain Class Synopsis

All of the blogs and websites deal in one way or another with what Evans and Burghardt call the Four Cornerstones of Life Long Brain Fitness, which are nutrition, sleep, physical exercise, and novel learning experience, and all of the blogs are going to speak of using these tools in to enhance neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, brain abilities that we did not know about even ten years ago.

Neurogenesis is the brain’s ability to grow new brain cells daily. For a boomer, that is very exciting, because I have more hope that I will not slide into a long slow decline, especially since there were some excesses in the 1960’s which were not good for my brain.

Neuroplasticity, as Begley, Evans, and Burghardt describe it, is the brain constantly reorganizing itself based on my thoughts and behaviors, literally thought by thought.

While the Merzenich protocol exercises all the neurons involved in the hearing process, plasticity is particular to individual thoughts and learnings, and is my brain is aching to do this. That is how it keeps itself sharp, and is also where the cornerstone of sleep fits in for Evans and Burghardt. When I am asleep, the brain double checks the days new connections and prunes some and reinforces some. Very important that the amount of sleep be long enough for that to happen.

Nutrition

There is a great deal of specific information available about vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, glyconutrients, antioxidants, and omega 3 fatty acids, and why those things must be taken daily, for the brain to do its memory, sensory processing, and analysis work effectively.

Without going into a lot of detail about the molecular specifics, neurons need to be able to talk to one another constantly, billions of them, constantly connecting so that you remember your VIP clients name at the most important moment and if they do not have all the letters in their alphabet, the neuronal communication gets garbled, and you can appear incompetent.

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