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Heading Off Trouble

Boomers might ward off Alzheimer's with brain exercises

My father died at 62, full of mental agility even though his heart gave out for the last time. My husband’s father died at 62, a man of still-brilliant intelligence taken down by malignant melanoma.

Our mothers, though, have lived to be 78 and 86, long enough for Doug and me to become just a wee bit frightened of Alzheimer’s. You’d be scared, too, if you were us.

But even 35 years ago, when my father’s sister retired from a long and successful career, he told me she was in big trouble. “She’s a genius, but the second she quit working, she refused to read a newspaper or a book, or to do a crossword puzzle or play Scrabble. She’s going to end up with Alzheimer’s.”

Sure enough, she did. Within a couple of years of her retirement, she was failing fast. Soon, she was in a nursing home, and didn’t survive long.

I think of my aunt often when I read current news about keeping the brain active and in training in order to avoid Alzheimer’s. Even something as simple as using your non-dominant hand to perform simple tasks, or closing your eyes while using the keyboard, or purposely taking a different path to the office can cause new connections to be made in the brain.

It shouldn’t surprise ambitious Boomers that now there’s a growing demand for brain fitness training.

“People are worried,” says Dr. John Hart Jr., Medical Science Director of the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. “You have a large group of the population getting to the age where they are sort of vulnerable to degenerative neurological diseases that seem to be prevalent.” Hart says there is “reasonable evidence” that challenging your brain by learning new things can stave off the cognitive decline that comes with aging. But brain fitness programs differ from traditional learning by focusing on drills for specific cognitive abilities, such as concentration and retaining information.

I gotta say, I still regret giving in to the calculator. I know they were around when I was in high school, but we were forbidden to use them then. If you couldn’t do the problem, you couldn’t do it. And you know what? Now that I use a calculator to do my checkbook, I sure don’t add and subtract as easily as I used to. I’ve kind of lost something in translation.

That seems a shame, doesn’t it? I’m going to start some of the brain exercises on the Internet. And I’m going to get on the ball writing my second novel. If that doesn’t keep those old neurons firing, nothing will.


Posted by Katy on 06/17/08
in Health

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Are You a Late Boomer?

If looming retirement is catching you off-guard between an aging parent and a revolving-door kid, you might be. If you've delayed travel only to discover they've changed the names of all the countries, you are. And if you're a member of the Baby Boomer Generation who's ready to give back but you've forgotten where you put it, stay tuned. From healthcare to personal finance, from career changes to volunteerism, it's time to boom where you are planted.