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How to Train the Aging Brain

Discussion in 'Health & Nutrition' started by spnadmin, Jan 3, 2010.

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  1. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    I LOVE reading history, and the shelves in my living room are lined with fat, fact-filled books. There’s “The Hemingses of Monticello,” about the family of Thomas Jefferson’s slave mistress; there’s “House of Cards,” about the fall of Bear Stearns; there’s “Titan,” about John D. Rockefeller Sr.
    Skip to next paragraph Education Life




    The problem is, as much as I’ve enjoyed these books, I don’t really remember reading any of them. Certainly I know the main points. But didn’t I, after underlining all those interesting parts, retain anything else? It’s maddening and, sorry to say, not all that unusual for a brain at middle age: I don’t just forget whole books, but movies I just saw, breakfasts I just ate, and the names, oh, the names are awful. Who are you?



    Brains in middle age, which, with increased life spans, now stretches from the 40s to late 60s, also get more easily distracted. Start boiling water for pasta, go answer the doorbell and — whoosh — all thoughts of boiling water disappear. Indeed, aging brains, even in the middle years, fall into what’s called the default mode, during which the mind wanders off and begin daydreaming.


    Given all this, the question arises, can an old brain learn, and then remember what it learns? Put another way, is this a brain that should be in school?


    As it happens, yes. While it’s tempting to focus on the flaws in older brains, that inducement overlooks how capable they’ve become. Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.
    Many longheld views, including the one that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, have been overturned. What is stuffed into your head may not have vanished but has simply been squirreled away in the folds of your neurons.


    One explanation for how this occurs comes from Deborah M. Burke, a professor of psychology at Pomona College in California. Dr. Burke has done research on “tots,” those tip-of-the-tongue times when you know something but can’t quite call it to mind. Dr. Burke’s research shows that such incidents increase in part because neural connections, which receive, process and transmit information, can weaken with disuse or age.



    But she also finds that if you are primed with sounds that are close to those you’re trying to remember — say someone talks about cherry pits as you try to recall Brad Pitt’s name — suddenly the lost name will pop into mind. The similarity in sounds can jump-start a limp brain connection. (It also sometimes works to silently run through the alphabet until landing on the first letter of the wayward word.)


    This association often happens automatically, and goes unnoticed. Not long ago I started reading “The Prize,” a history of the oil business. When I got to the part about Rockefeller’s early days as an oil refinery owner, I realized, hey, I already know this from having read “Titan.” The material was still in my head; it just needed a little prodding to emerge.



    Recently, researchers have found even more positive news. The brain, as it traverses middle age, gets better at recognizing the central idea, the big picture. If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.


    The trick is finding ways to keep brain connections in good condition and to grow more of them.



    “The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding,” says Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, who has studied ways to teach adults effectively. “As adults we may not always learn quite as fast, but we are set up for this next developmental step.”


    Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.


    Teaching new facts should not be the focus of adult education, she says. Instead, continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different. In a history class, that might mean reading multiple viewpoints, and then prying open brain networks by reflecting on how what was learned has changed your view of the world.



    “There’s a place for information,” Dr. Taylor says. “We need to know stuff. But we need to move beyond that and challenge our perception of the world. If you always hang around with those you agree with and read things that agree with what you already know, you’re not going to wrestle with your established brain connections.”


    Such stretching is exactly what scientists say best keeps a brain in tune: get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.


    “As adults we have these well-trodden paths in our synapses,” Dr. Taylor says. “We have to crack the cognitive egg and scramble it up. And if you learn something this way, when you think of it again you’ll have an overlay of complexity you didn’t have before — and help your brain keep developing as well.”


    Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired.”


    Dr. Mezirow developed this concept 30 years ago after he studied women who had gone back to school. The women took this bold step only after having many conversations that helped them “challenge their own ingrained perceptions of that time when women could not do what men could do.”



    Such new discovery, Dr. Mezirow says, is the “essential thing in adult learning.”


    “As adults we have all those brain pathways built up, and we need to look at our insights critically,” he says. “This is the best way for adults to learn. And if we do it, we can remain sharp.”


    And so I wonder, was my cognitive egg scrambled by reading that book on Thomas Jefferson? Did I, by exploring the flaws in a man I admire, create a suitably disorienting dilemma? Have I, as a result, shaken up and fed a brain cell or two?


    And perhaps it doesn’t matter that I can’t, at times, recall the given name of the slave with whom Jefferson had all those children. After all, I can Google a simple name.


    Sally.
     
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  3. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Narayanjot ji,

    Guru fateh.

    Thanks for the very interesting, eye opening, mind boggling phenomena of old age that makes us physically lazy and mentally dormant which is a scary part and thus, leads us to self vegetation, the walking zombies blaming our old age for the mals we have failed to steer away from, due to our own lack of self awareness.

    Following are the definitions of brain and mind. Brain is a biological engine which runs on the fuel called the mind.

    brain

    NOUN:
    The portion of the vertebrate central nervous system that is enclosed within the cranium, continuous with the spinal cord, and composed of gray matter and white matter. It is the primary center for the regulation and control of bodily activities, receiving and interpreting sensory impulses, and transmitting information to the muscles and body organs. It is also the seat of consciousness, thought, memory, and emotion.

    mind

    NOUN:

    1. The human consciousness that originates in the brain and is manifested especially in thought, perception, emotion, will, memory, and imagination.
    2. The collective conscious and unconscious processes in a sentient organism that direct and influence mental and physical behavior.
    3. The principle of intelligence; the spirit of consciousness regarded as an aspect of reality.
    4. The faculty of thinking, reasoning, and applying knowledge: Follow your mind, not your heart.
    5. A person of great mental ability: the great minds of the century.

    If we do not generate this fuel from the within then the engine called the brain can not run, function and eventually deteriorates. It is like the beautiful old car that we used for our joy rides, now sitting in the garage with still the spotless engine but does not start anymore because one has not put the fuel in it for a long time. The engine is ceased and deceased.
    Gurbani talks a lot about the mind and gives us the tools to learn, unlearn and relearn so we can keep our brains activated all the time. Gurbani gives us the recipe to make this fuel within.
    “Mind, you have divinity with in, so keep yourself in check all the time” (Munn, tun jot saroop hein, apna mool pahchaan).

    I hope one day some Sikh and non-Sikh neurologists will study the Gurbani and then create some activities based on the tools in the SGGS, which will help us avoid or combat diseases like Alzheimer, depression, obesity and other maladies which slows the functions of our brains, if these activities are done from the very young age.

    Perhaps, the answer lies in many verses of the Gurbani. One of them is in Jap ji by Guru Nanak which shows us quite nitidly how to keep our brain not becoming a dead engine in a beautiful car:

    Gavieye, sunhieye, Munn rakhieyei bhao. Dukh par har such ghar lei jai.

    Singing cultivates our emotions, listening charges our mind which in result creates understanding of things. When we practice this understanding by acting on it, the practicing helps the mind to be alert and remain busy all the time. And the result is that we are able to confront any odds in our lives which help us lead a truthful living full of serenity and more important it generates the fuel for our brains to keep on running like a good engine.

    This is one more reason for us not to become parrots of Gurbani but its students – the Sikhs, so that we learn how to open ourselves to new horizons.

    Tejwant Singh
     
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  4. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Tejwant ji,

    I thought that forum members would find this interesting. As for me, no stranger to dilemmas and other kinds of problems recommended by the author of the article, let's make a prediction. My brain will be hale and hearty for some time. That said, I still forget my cellphone and house keys every Thursday morning when I leave the house for work, and do not even notice until it is time to return home.
     
  5. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Narayanjot ji,

    Which is great because there are two less things to worry about all day long every Thursday.:)
     
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  6. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    But why Thursday? :confused::confused::confused::confused:
     
  7. Mai Harinder Kaur

    Mai Harinder Kaur
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    As as result of a couple of strokes, I have somewhat less than a whole brain. How does all this apply to a relatively young woman of age 57?:confused:

    I have entirely lost my Punjabi and have been struggling for 3 years to relearn just a reading ability with Gurbani, which, BTW, I read before I could read either English or French. That is at the top of the list of goals for 2010 CE. Getting meaning is more difficult.:}--}:

    I think stroke is classified as a traumatic brain injury; in any case, it has the same results. So my brain is not only getting older but is also quite badly injured.:}{}{}:

    This is all very mysterious. I am teaching myself graphics arts with some success. There is something in the visual that my brain is handling much better than remembering information. It's hard for me to read an article as long as this one. Still I can work on a picture for hours, many hours, with complete concentration. I can listen to nitnem - even without understanding most of the words, and kirtan with good concentration, too. Reading is a huge problem. Writing is also becoming more difficult.:whisling:

    Why Thursday? Because it's the fourth, next to the last, day of the work week. You're tired of the whole business and your mind isn't functioning at its best. Friday you are more alert looking forward to the weekend. :{;o:

    :ice:
     
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  8. jaffery12

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    If it kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.
     
  9. kamrinjacobs

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    It all depends on the surrounding atmosphere of the person.
    It has big impact on the mind.
    It has proven before that person with less tension can have good thoughtful mind.
     
  10. Taranjeet singh

    Taranjeet singh India
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    Hi , It is simple.

    B,cause every Thursday is after Wednesday!! I thought you knew this. But never mind.
     
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  11. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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  12. leealden06

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    Your brain is a thinking organ that learns and develops through the interaction with the world through perception and views action.Many chance long, including that 40 percent of brain cells are lost, were chemistry Overturned. Brain reveals an essential unity of body and mind. Neurons not only communicate with other neurons, they also connect with skeletal muscles in a specialized structure called the neuromuscular junction.
     

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