working on my brain health

Last week I heard Dr. Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity (http://longevity.stanford.edu/) speak on the Psychology of Aging.  Very thought provoking research she’s done on how goals help define what we see and remember.  I asked her about the currently popular brain fitness technologies/services, and she said that prefers actual physical exercise and social engagement over such games which may or may not be effective.

So, this brings up the question of what is sustainable in terms of “brain exercise” on an everyday level?  Well, I think it depends.

It may be that for a shy wheel-chair-bound nursing-home resident, the structure of something like Posit Science Brain Fitness Program’s daily one-hour class in a classroom with fellow residents may be just the ticket, to get her into an everyday routine which includes some movement and socializing with classmates, in addition to the benefits of doing the computer-based program itself.

But what about for me, an early 40s who is facing the reality of an aging brain and its attendant memory fade?  A recent NYTimes article, Exercise Your Brain… introduced some tools out there.

Sure, I should probably up my yoga and other exercise, but I’ve been curious about these kinds of games, so I’ve been trying out Lumosity (www.lumosity.com), (which I learned about first through a panel organized by SmartSilvers.)

I signed up for Lumosity’s one week free trial, and have been doing more than one exercise per day, because I want to get through as many of the sessions as possible before the trial runs out. 

Some observations:

  • The website is generally designed nicely in terms of usability.  Most of the instructions on how to play the games are easy to understand, and even if I don’t quite understand at first, I haven’t had a problem figuring them out by a bit of trial and error.
  • The games are fun and cute without being cloying.
  • Some of the games can be difficult to play if your computer isn’t set up right. There is one where you have to do simple arithmetic and type in the answer; since my keyboard doesn’t have a number keypad, I have to maneuver the clumsier Num Lk function and hold the Fn key … Awkward.
  • I like the various forms of feedback–audio, graphic, exclamatory remarks–on how I’m doing within each game and over time.  Whether I’ve made real great progress or not, hey, it’s nice to hear.
  • I find myself getting a bit addicted to doing better on games where I don’t score well, or where my particular competitive nature gets hooked. This doesn’t seem healthy to me.  Is this any different from getting hooked on a computer game?
  • I wish there were suggestions for other ways to exercise these muscles.  For example, within the four program areas (memory, attention, processing speed and cognitive control), I am weakest in attention.  (I think it’s only the Birdwatching game that is measuring this parameter.)  Anyway, I want to know why this might be.  Is it a hand-eye coordination thing?  What sort of limits is this putting on my daily life? 

Since I didn’t benchmark myself except in the data that Lumosity can give me, I don’t have any way to measure the benefits of this course, and no even sure if 1 week can have any discernible effect.  I have noticed that my arithmetic has been super slow in the last couple of years, so I’ll pay attention to that next week.

Since I personally want to move toward having more interaction with people and engagement in my life, my guess is that this web-based tool will not be Everyday Sustainable for me ongoing.  But I’ll finish up the trial and evaluate.

 

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