January 17th, 2011 at 3:12 am
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Memory fitness plan: Incorporate new ways to challenge your brain

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

When asking older adults what they do to keep their brain active, the answers often include reading, doing puzzles, playing games, or taking classes. If you have been doing the same type of activity for many years, current research suggests there are benefits to taking your brain games up notch.

When you pick up your daily paper and look for your favorite puzzle or read the same type of magazines, it is more familiar and generally less challenging than something different. Day 6 of the memory fitness plan focuses on ways to take what you do to another level and incorporating something new.

You know you have taken your fitness program to a more challenging level when you feel like you do when they change the layout of your grocery store. This is the point in my presentations where my audience groans. When you are doing some familiar, you are on more of an automatic pilot mode. When it is different, you need to focus and give the task your full attention.

So let’s see how you can take some of your current activities and add some challenges, thus providing more brain activity. On each day 6 of your memory fitness program, try one of these suggestions, or even better, use your creative capabilities and find another option.

Games: Find different games to play. We like to play games and we struggled through trying a new word game on New Year’s Eve. At first it was a little overwhelming, and then we caught on and had a great time. This game really tapped into our long term memory and introduced a time factor, so it served the needs of those who were more competitive as well as those of us who were looking for another game to add to our choices.

Teach someone how to play a game. You may know how to play but putting it into words so others can understand the rules can be a challenge. Do not always play with the same partners. Several years ago I was visiting family in another state and on their game night I was playing new games with a younger generation. It really made me pay close attention and it took some time to get up to speed with this group since they played together several times a month.

Reading: You could increase the variety of what you read whether it is books, magazines, or newspapers. You might try periodically reading aloud. Just changing who you are reading to makes you think. For a child, you may become more animated or have to answer questions. Reading to an older adult with hearing or memory problems may require a slower rate, louder voice or summarizing some of the details. One of my friends is always retelling me information from things she read that might interest me. I really appreciate it and that is an activity I suggest to my patients and their families.

Puzzles: Trying a new type of word puzzle, perhaps similar to what you are already doing, might be a good place to start. Show someone how to do a certain type of puzzle or do it together until they feel more comfortable trying it on their own. Use your non-dominant hand to circle the words or to fill in the letters. With a little practice, you will be able to print the letters legibly and by switching hands, you are actually giving the other side of your brain a workout. Here is a link to some additional information on puzzles. For details on the 7 day program, go to Create a Memory Fitness Plan.

“The growth of the human mind is still high adventure, in many ways the highest adventure on earth.” NORMAN COUSINS

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