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  • Ann Hollander

Does brain training work?

The brain is another organ to keep fit, and regular workouts are a good thing! Our brains enable many types of thinking: Problem solving, planning, attention, and memory. They manage our emotions and help us understand the emotions of others. Our brains also control movement (balance, speed, and coordination). And it's where we process our spatial awareness—used for packing a suitcase or reading a map.

It's never too early or too late to focus on one's brain health. If your loved one—or you, for that matter—would like to improve brain fitness, consider these "exercises" that research studies have proven effective.

  • Draw a map from memory. Start with the neighborhood. Strive for detail.

  • Do math in your head. Try mental math first, then pull out the calculator to verify.

  • Use your nondominant hand. If you are right handed, try brushing your teeth, eating, drawing, or writing with your left hand. It's hard! But that's the point. Challenges cause your brain to grow new brain cells and build new pathways.

  • Learn something new. Take up a musical instrument. Learn a new language. Start a new hobby.

  • Practice focused attention. Take 15 minutes a day to purposefully concentrate on what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or even tasting. Mentally stretch your awareness to observe outside your usual patterns of perception.

  • Socialize. Interacting with others builds your emotional intelligence and improves mental health. (Isolation fosters depression and anxiety.)

  • Brain-training apps. The jury is still out on how effective these are. If they are enjoyable, try them. But don't spend a lot of money hoping for improved cognition in daily life.

Fuel for the brain. The brain is 2% of our body weight but consumes 20% of our daily calories. Good food, physical exercise, and adequate sleep help it get the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Concerned about brain fitness?

We at Options for Aging frequently see families and older adults worried about Alzheimer's disease. As the North Shore and Chicago experts in family caregiving, we encourage you to talk with the doctor and get a full assessment. You don't have to do this alone. Give us a call at 847-868-1445.

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