At some point, everyone has had the unfortunate experience of drawing a complete blank when trying to remember someone’s name, or trying to capture a word that’s just on the tip of your tongue.
That process of retrieving information actually does decline to some degree as we get older.
But just as lifting weights can help your biceps stay strong so you can complete everyday tasks like carrying grocery bags, and just as walking at a good clip keeps your heart healthy, exercising your brain can help protect against cognitive decline.
The programs, designed and certified through the UCLA Longevity Center, are based on 40 years of brain research demonstrating that focused training can help improve memory, attention and recall. The well-known ACTIVE study demonstrated that just 10 hours of memory training still had protective effects a decade later.
Dr. Karen Miller, an associate professor at UCLA specializing in geriatric psychology, said only about a third of dementia risk is genetic, which means we can influence a number of other variables. Diet, physical activity, stress reduction and brain stimulation all work together to improve memory and language skills, she said.
Miller pointed to a 2003 study of 469 participants that found those who were the most active had a 63 percent lower risk of dementia. It also found those who completed crossword puzzles four days a week had a 47 percent lower risk than those who worked through puzzles only once a week. In fact, each day they exercised their minds translated into a 10 percent reduction in risk. “We know this kind of focused, structured program of concentrated effort really works,” Miller said.
The demand for such coursework was evident given the overwhelming popularity of annual brain awareness events at Tucson Medical Center, including Brain Aerobics sessions, said L’Don Sawyer, director of TMC for Seniors.
“For years, there was a lot of focus on the fact that the brain did most of its growth in those formative years before kindergarten,” Sawyer said. “What science has increasingly shown through the whole concept of brain plasticity is that the brain is not fixed and rigid and does have the ability to change throughout the lifespan. The fact it can change and rewire itself as we take in new information has really revolutionized how we think about our ability over time to retain and recall information.”
It also means it’s never too late to learn new skills, Sawyer said. “No matter your age, studies have shown there are practices you can incorporate into your daily life that will provide cognitive benefits that can last for years.”
Held in small, interactive groups that support participants as they begin to shift how they think and absorb in information, the classes are made possible with funding from the TMC Foundation and include:
- Memory Training for those with normal, age-related memory challenges. Participants learn strategies over a four-week program to address the most common memory complaints, from forgetting names to misplacing objects or forgetting important appointments.
- Memory Fitness for those with mild memory concerns. Participants will focus over a six-week series on the four areas of life that will help maintain memory fitness – diet, exercise, stress reduction and memory training.
“Older adults are so often told that forgetfulness is just part of aging, that they may feel powerless to prevent it,” said Dr. Marlene Bluestein, a geriatrician who counsels patients on physical and cognitive health concerns through the TMC Health Assessment Clinic. “While it is true that memory begins to progressively decline, beginning in middle age, there are protective practices that will help guard against loss and compensate for it. Apathy is not a way to build resilience, so we should all take the time to exercise the mind and body to stave off brain decline.”
All classes, which will be led by certified trainers, will take place at TMC Senior Services, 1400 N. Wilmot Road.
The Memory Training series is $40 and the Memory Fitness program is $60, although scholarships are available for those with income limitations. Donations also are accepted for individuals who would like to sponsor those with limited incomes.
For more information about the programs, or to make a donation, please contact 324-1960.