Brain games inspire
another similar column
Monday, March 24, 2014 4:25 AM
It is interesting that over the past two weeks, my fellow columnist Lisa Brainard has been talking about exercising her brain when I have also been thinking about my own need to keep my brain active for my own wellness. Also writing about the topic this week is Dr. Jan Meyer who has developed some of her own mind games to keep her brain sharp. So, I guess, I'll just jump on their bandwagon and throw in my two cents worth too. (Apparently, I have no trouble coming up with clichés when I need them.)
As I have entered my 40s, I have unfortunately experienced more times when I struggle for a name when I run into someone familiar and I seem to fight writers' block more frequently, spending more time than I used to trying to think of that one particular word to perfectly fit into a sentence.
My father, now into his 70s, can still pull an obscure phone number out of his head without looking it up in a phone book, but I'm lucky if I can remember my own phone and address. You would think I would have inherited some of those genes!
There are many jokes about getting older and "losing one's mind," but it's becoming more of a concern for me as I feel my brain having to work harder to recall events or names or even details of my past.
I rely heavily on my memory as a community reporter - there is a great deal of information shared at council meetings or in personal interviews that I need to relay to our readers. I have found I take more notes than I used to and do a bit more fact checking after meetings than I did in my younger days. I want to be accurate, so I know it is an important adjustment to my routine.
I also use my daily planner more and make sure I keep track of each appointment. I can no longer count on my memory to make sure I'm in the right place at the right time. That includes not only professional appointments, but my friends' and family members' important dates as well. Who would have thought I'd forget birthdays or anniversaries when I was the queen of sending cards and buying gifts only a few years ago. Now I not only have the actual special days marked, but I've included reminders to send cards a week prior to each birthday or anniversary. This does not, however, make sure those cards get sent!
Another adjustment I'm making is to make more lists, both for things that need to be done or items I need to buy during my next visit to the store. I've implemented a highly organized and sophisticated system of neon-colored note cards. The thought behind using these bold cards was to be able to find the "important" stuff on my desk. While this is still the basic premise, I've had to make a few adjustments as I failed to discard the completed lists or messages, which added unnecessary complications when there were just way too many "important" notes to handle.
With those slight adjustments in my routine - added note taking and record keeping - I've also taken some of the hints Lisa and Jan both talked about in their columns. I'm an active reader, which I believe helps not only develop one's memory, but also helps improve one's vocabulary and knowledge of a subject. I love puzzles, playing a daily crossword online most days and most recently trying out the brain challenges on lumosity.com, which Lisa recommended.
I get frustrated with a few of the challenges on the site, one of which tests my ability to put a name to a face. I was surprised by how bad I am at that test, as in the "real world" I think I'm usually pretty good at that. I am going to give myself the benefit of the doubt and say it's because I focus more on forming a relationship with a person than correlating a name with a face.
Another one that causes me great strife is a mathematic challenge in which math problems drop from the sky and one has to quickly type in the answer before they hit the bottom of the screen. I do well while the bubbles are dropping slowly, one at a time, but when the speed increases and numerous problems come onto the screen, I panic and my accuracy suffers.
I thought I would be very good at the word challenges when the first two or three letters are provided and one must come up with numerous other words by adding letters. Again, I panic and can't think of any words that start with ant . . . or the . . . or pat. In that game, once the time runs out, the computer always provides one last word, "You could have played antique . . or theater . . . or patted." Honestly, instead of feeling grateful for the additional hint to be used in a future game, I feel like the computer is simply mocking me.
I am actually pretty good at the games where one needs to spot differences or determine direction based on mixed information. And, as I play each day to train my brain, my scores do increase each day, so I take that as a plus.
There is a subscription fee to "unlock" all the aspects of luminosity.com, but one is able to try out a few games and challenges before committing to a full-year subscription. I didn't subscribe right away and eventually was persuaded by a 15 percent-off offer a few weeks later. Family members or a group of friends can also investigate a group discount.
I'm not promoting the site either way, just wanting to give you the information. I think there are probably a lot of gaming sites for free that one can explore to keep your mind challenged.
Some other common games, which I like to think keep my brain in working order, include card games and word games I like to play on my tablet each day. I try not to lose too much time gaming each day - which is easy to do. Shamefully, I admit, I have wasted hours playing Words with Friends when I happen to get online at the same time as an opponent and we rapidly fire words back in forth.
This week, Lisa writes about ways to quiet one's mind and admits to having difficulty doing so. I, too, struggle with that. I have not tried yoga or meditation, but reading before bed helps me focus my mind on something other than the worries or tasks of the day. Playing music as I fall asleep also helps divert my focus from the stress and onto something relaxing.
However, those tricks work when I am trying to quiet myself for sleep and they work well. Quieting my mind during the daytime is much harder, I think. Reading may work, but there are times I have to read multiple times because my brain is running rampant and the words on the page get lost. Playing music while I work sometimes calms me, but when I'm writing on deadline or working on something stressful or controversial, that noise adds to the chaos in my head.
Most of the time, I simply have to convince myself to take one thing at a time and not to become overwhelmed by thinking of the whole day and the work that must be accomplished during that time. Prioritizing and making lists also helps calm some of that anxiety.
As Lisa and Jan have reminded us, the brain responds to positive activity and challenges. I hope my mental exercises help improve my memory and my mental organizational skills, keeping my brain young even though my body continues to age.
If I meet you on the street and fail to remember your name, please forgive me - I'm still working on that!