Is your brain older than you are?
You’re striving to stay on top of your career, managing complex decisions, coming up with creative solutions, and working with younger colleagues whose brains process information quickly. You want to maintain your edge in the workplace, keeping pace with the flow of ideas that sustain and drive forward your business.
At the same time, you’re working to secure your retirement. You’ve put money away. You’ve taken relatively good care of yourself. You’ve paid off your mortgage. In short, you’ve ensured that you have the external resources to live out the rest of your life in comfort. So what have you missed?
What if despite all of your efforts to secure your future you’ve neglected to maintain your brain? If you lose your faculties, your ability to enjoy that future and your independence will be in jeopardy.
If you’re in your 40′s or older, you may have already noticed signs of mental decline. Do you sometimes forget where you put your keys? Do you have a hard time remembering names? Does the word you mean to use escape you, and you find yourself scrambling for synonyms? These are all indications that you have begun to lose your neuroplasticity. Not only are your retirement years at risk, because your cognitive abilities are stuck in the rut of habitual thinking, you are potentially jeopardizing your creativity and ability to stay competitive in the marketplace.
Not to worry. Your brain is capable of regaining much of what you’ve lost.
Think back to when you were a child. You constantly had to learn new things: how to walk, talk, dress yourself, read and write – to name a few. Gradually, you came to master these skills and more. Your mind was in a constant state of intense concentrated learning, ensuring that your brain maintained its plasticity.
As we move into adulthood and become established in our careers, our daily routine often presents fewer opportunities to learn new skills. Instead, it becomes incumbent upon each of us to seek them out. Why? If we don’t, our brains begin to lose their neuroplasticity. They becomes fixed in their functions, and we start to lose our cognitive abilities. We process information more slowly and have more difficulty recalling facts and figures. Our response time is affected and even our problem-solving skills.
We become creatures of habit as we age, choosing a daily routine that has very little change. As we get older, we tend to stay within our comfort zones. With nothing to shake up our world, we stop learning new skills. Instead, we simply build on the ones we’ve already mastered. To build new neural pathways in the brain, it’s imperative that we learn new skills on a regular basis, or we risk atrophy.
Neuroplastician, Michael Merzenich, in The Brain That Changes Itself
, concludes that, “…when you are eighty-five, there is a forty-seven percent chance that you will have Alzheimer’s disease… We’ve got to do something about the mental lifespan, to extend it out and into the body’s lifespan.”
Some of Merzenich’s suggestions for fighting cognitive decline include:
1. Learning a new language.
2. Learning new physical activities that require concentration.
3. Solving challenging puzzles.
4. Changing to a career that requires the mastery of new skills and material.
Today, there are a number of programs available through the Internet that can improve our mental faculties. Merzenich is the developer of Posit Science
, a series of brain training programs designed to address age-related cognitive decline, which attacks memory, thinking, and process speed. Posit Science has dropped its prices considerably since their programs first came out on the market $690 for the complete program to $345. The site includes sample games you can try, as well as an opportunity to test your brain.
A popular site that allows users to compare their cognitive abilities with their peers is Lumosity
. Users go through a training program for a very reasonable cost. $200 will buy you a lifetime membership. You can pay considerably less if you want to give the program a trial run of a shorter period of time. Lumosity fans can even participate in scientific studies that use their stats to understand neuroplasticity and other aspects of brain science. Lumosity also offers a smartphone app so that some games can be played while mobile.
Another program, Cognifit
allows users to unlock applications by inviting Facebook friends to participate. Cognifit uses a more general comparison of a user’s score to that of the world in general, but also breaks it down by profession, gender, age and country of origin.
Regardless of which program you gravitate towards, don’t fool yourself into thinking that these computer-based tasks are going to cut it. Get exercising, eat right, get enough sleep, and drink in moderation. Avoid excessive TV time or video game play. A well-rounded life leads to healthier grey matter.
Whether you are in the work world and want to stay competitive with your peers or you are planning for a fulfilling retirement, ensure you stay sharp. Maintain your brain!