HOW TO EXERCISE THE BRAIN

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“You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”
― Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes

This week I’m continuing the theme I started last week in writing about “Brain Fitness”.  Remember, that 3lb little muscle that Memory Specialist Cathee describes as “squidgy”, can do simply amazing things that not even the best NASA computers can achieve. However, this 68 year old is prepared to admit that as time goes by the squidgy little guy in my head sometimes needs maintenance!

Why not? Well I’m currently working at the gym with my physical trainer to exercise every other muscle in my body, some of which I didn’t know existed judging from the pain I’m going through each week!  But the little guy up top needs special attention and I watch enthralled as my friends and mentors at Memory Matters open my eyes each week to new ways to achieve this goal.

For example every Connections Club program has a professional yoga instructor who leads the club members, (our participants) through a routine that exercises the body for about 45 minutes. It’s a non-impact routine and quite safe. It encourages those positive energy signals which originate in the brain and cause our endorphins “to go on vacation”. At least that’s my laymans description of the positive euphoric charge that occurs with yoga, including purposeful meditation.

Good brain health and fitness requires more than yoga. It requires significant stimulating exercise, and that is what we provide.

To anyone reading this with a clear healthy brain some of what I am writing might sound trivial or at best, obvious, but this is not the case. Let me give you some examples just from this week. You will recall that a week ago we challenged the Connections Club Members to establish a New Year resolution to learn something new, and to focus their minds on striving to practice it at home, before reporting progress back to us the following week.

This week was only moderately successful, so we will persevere!

One gentleman was remarkably open and transparent. He wanted to improve his conversational ability in 2017 because he recognizes that in so doing he will exercise his brain and sharpen his memory. He confided that he still had some way to go to achieve his goal. He knew he had to learn how to initiate conversations. Now as an aside, I will tell you that in my opinion he is very sociable and a good conversationalist once he gets started! But HE wants to improve his initiation skills.

So what we did was to set up pairs of people throughout the Club and ask them to engage in conversation with each other. We gave them three simple conversational questions to use plus a check list of things to focus on. Focus – listening- questioning and confirming answers- eye contact- encouraging responses, not interrupting, and speaking of associations. E.g. “Oh yes, I have two brothers and they all live in New Jersey too”. After the mini conversations  we asked them to tell us what they had learned from each other.

I would say the results were excellent. While those with only mild cognitive memory loss could repeat most of what they learned, others found it more stretching. Most pleasing was the intensity of their effort to seriously follow our guidance and exercise their brains. I saw people totally engaged and focused.

Dementia is such a tough problem. Imagine that even mild memory loss can be so frustrating to the sufferer. I can think of two people who travel to our program together every week but can sometimes forget each other’s names! These same people have bought into memory care and exercise of that “squidgy” little  muscle.

For all of us with “normal brain health”, learning to exercise the little guy is vitally important. I’m not suggesting that such exercise is a guaranteed preventative solution for dementia avoidance. That would be naive, but  it really can help and my friends at Memory Matters are uniquely positioned to assist you in developing your own exercise regime.

One final thought for today. The people entrusted to our care by the caregivers are special people. I really enjoy working with them and sharing childhood and other family stories. When we are not challenging their brains with exercises we socialize, sing, play some games, talk trivia and generally have a lot of fun. After all, laughter is another sure way to get those endorphins buzzing happily in our bodies.

As a volunteer working with the Club Members I know I speak for all my fellow volunteers when I say that every day is rewarding. Watching them strive to improve their memory and continue to play an active role in society is wonderful. Being a volunteer helps each and everyone of us exercise our minds in helping others perhaps less fortunate.

If you are reading my blog for the first or perhaps thirtieth time, and are someone who would like to challenge themselves anew, please give us a call and maybe come and observe a typical day at Memory Matters. You might like what you see and hear and become a volunteer too!

If you think this blog would help someone you know, please share it.

We can be contacted at 1 843 842 6688 or go on-line to our website where you can learn more about us and ask questions on our contact page via email. The website http://www.memory-matters.org has an events page which includes upcoming 20th Anniversary celebration dates and detail. A similar list can be found at the end of this blog site.

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