Use It or Lose It
I often quip that Thad and I need to remain a team because it takes two of us to make one fully functioning brain. We will enter a room and can’t remember why we went there. Sometimes we can’t remember the name of the couple that has sat right behind us in church for the last three years. Have you been driving somewhere and realize you forget where you were going? Scary, isn’t it? Why do we have “senior moments”? Is it because we are aging? Maybe, if you are as old as I am, its because we have made so many changes or transitions in our lives (children, moving, caregiving, loss of family and friends, retirement, heath issues). Whew! Just thinking about it all causes my brain to drain and for me to feel tired. Tired of learning, tired of remembering, tired of even thinking… I just want to do nothing – not even think! But I know it’s more important than ever for us to keep thinking, working our brain, training it, and reinventing ourselves by learning new things, and continually adapting to change in order for us to remain healthy in body, mind and soul.
It was a recent conversation with a friend of ours that got me to stop lamenting about my brain and start applauding its abilities. Steve has Parkinson’s disease and has worked very hard to continue living his life fully, utilizing all the medical marvels available at this time to keep this disease at bay. He is remarkable in his ability to live a normal lifestyle and keep his wonderful sense of zany humor intact. He often quotes the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz – “If I only had a brain!” He struggles with memory issues and a fogginess that sometimes permeates his brain and can make the simplest tasks difficult. Recently, Steve’s company downsized and his position was eliminated. Out of work, with Parkinson’s and foggy he forged ahead hoping and praying that God’s plan for him would include a job he could once again be successful at. One month later, he has secured a position with an insurance company and can begin making money as soon as he passes the insurance boards. Oh, boy! Talk about change and transitions. Nevertheless, Steve persevered and as he studied and took practice tests, and studied and took more practice tests, he discovered something. His brain was starting to fire on all burners! His mind was clearer than it had been in a long time. His stamina both physically and mentally was supercharged! He realized the old Steve had gotten lost amid the bad self-talk, the worry, the what-if’s, and the “I am just too tired, too old, too—“. Now, with his mind being exercised, trained, stretched, he was being refined. The old adage of “Iron sharpens iron” was being made visible and the Steve of days gone by was back! For more information on Parkinson’s Disease check out http://www.pdf.org/ .
How do we use it so we don’t lose it?
- Never stop learning. Go back to school, work past retirement, start a new hobby, challenge your brain with mental exercises (I use Lumosity.com – its quite addicting).
- Try variations of things you already do such as playing games – try new ones.
- Work on something new every day. It could be as simple as taking a different route to work or try brushing your teeth with a different hand (Since Thad’s shoulder replacement surgery he has been using his left hand to not only brush his teeth, but feed himself – his brain is smoking!).
- Take on a new subject. Learn a new language, sign up for computer classes, or take up a new sport.
- Volunteering is a great way to learn something new and a great way to make friends which is another brain booster.
- Include all your senses. A study showed that the more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain will be involved in storing the memory.
- Believe in yourself. We all joke about our “senior moments” but if you use it as an excuse you are less likely to work at maintaining or improving your memory. However, if you believe you can improve your memory and put that into practice, you have a better chance of keeping your brain sharp.
- Prioritize & utilize. Don’t try to remember every little thing. Rather concentrate on learning and remembering important things. Utilize calendars, planners, maps, shopping lists, file folders, and address books to keep routine information. Designate specific places for your glasses, purse, keys and other items you often use.
- Repeat to remember. If you have a piece of information you want to remember, repeat it out loud or write it down. Using other senses reinforces the memory or connection. For example, if you are introduced to someone new; use their name when you speak to them.
- Space it out. While repetition is most important as a learning tool, repeating information in too short of a time will not help retain information in the long term. Repeat the information after increasingly longer periods of time – once an hour, then every few hours, then every day.
Those reading this post know that when I began this journey into social media I had spent two years fighting it. I did not want to learn how to do build a website or blog. I just wanted to publish my book! But after being told repeatedly by those “in the know”; here I am creating, thinking and writing down my thoughts. And you know what? I love it! These days, I am looking through a different lens. I am asking myself – what do I feel about what is happening around me, and how can I share my experience so that others might be helped? Some days, the writing does not come easy and I find myself circling my desk trying to do everything other than write. On other days, I find myself sitting at my desk and chasing lost thoughts that seem to go nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Then there is the age old problem of fighting for coordination between my brain and my fingers. I also mumble a lot (I am a proponent that sometimes the only good conversation is with your own self). Thad thinks I have an imaginary friend sitting with me and he threatens to call the men in white coats to take me to the friendly psychiatric ward. But once I push through the fog, the laziness, the “I don’t want to think anymore” I feel like my brain is lit up and I am illuminated. The writing is coming easier, my fingers are flowing smoother and although I don’t know if anyone is really enjoying my writing – I am having a blast! I am learning, growing and all my senses are being lit up like the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.
So join me in keeping your brain “lit”. Ask God to show you new avenues to pursue and then fearlessly and unequivocally follow Him. Expect the unexpected, look forward to moving forward into new frontiers knowing that if you use it – you won’t lose it!
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ― Plutarch