Steps to keep your brain sharp during vacation
Whether it’s for a few weeks or just a few days, chances are you’re planning a vacation this summer. While it might be fun to think about completely unplugging and slowing down your pace, Healthy Hearing would like to encourage you to keep your brain engaged. Research confirms incorporating challenging, fun activities into your daily or weekly schedule can sharpen your brain health. And keeping your brain healthy helps keep your hearing healthy, too.
Work a puzzle
Jigsaw or crossword, it really doesn’t matter. Do you take the daily paper? Work the crossword or Sudoku puzzle. Are there little puzzles in the house? Spend a few minutes with them each week putting together jigsaw puzzles. Once you master their smaller, larger piece puzzles, challenge yourself with one that’s more complicated and takes several weeks to assemble.
Scientists say working a puzzle exercises both sides of the brain. The left brain is logical and follows sequence while the right brain is creative, intuitive and emotional. Studies have determined that people who enjoy puzzling have less risk for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia— which also happen to be two conditions related to untreated hearing loss.
If puzzling isn’t your thing, you may enjoy playing online brain fitness games. In the past several years, many different companies have developed programs specifically designed to improve word skills, critical thinking, memory, problem solving and concentration.
Do they work? Researchers at the UCLA Longevity Center published a study in 2013 confirming the validity of playing online brain fitness programs. After six months in the program, participants improved their scores in language and memory, which translated into feeling more confident in their daily lives.
And while memory deficits are common as we age, brain fitness programs may help seniors find ways to compensate. What should you look for in a brain fitness program? Although playing video games with your grandchildren may be fun, you might want to invest more time in online programs such as Dakim BrainFitness or Lumosity, which are based on brain science.
Glen Campbell's family was devastated when they learned he had Alzheimer's Disease in 2011, yet it didn’t prevent him from going on tour to promote his final album. Although he now resides in a long-term care facility, both his family and his physician credit his life-long passion for playing music for slowing the disease’s progression.
Much like puzzling, music stimulates both the left and right brain function. The left brain helps in understanding music structure and motor skills while the right brain focuses on the melody. Researchers believe music boosts brain activity by evoking emotion and trigger memory, promotes emotional and physical closeness, and engages other parts of the body when you sing and dance.
Remember that dream you had of learning to play the guitar or taking vocal lessons? Maybe this is the summer you begin to learn.
Take a class
If puzzling and making music are healthy for both sides of your brain, wait until you try learning something new. Research shows picking up a challenging new hobby can greatly improve your memory and guard against developing dementia. Scientists say this is because challenging activities strengthen entire networks in the brain instead of just those for short-term memory and may defer cognitive decline by several years.
How challenging does a new activity have to be in order for it to sharpen your wits? Everyone is different, so choose something that challenges you personally. Does even turning on the computer befuddle you? Take a beginner’s computer course. Does balancing the checkbook make you queasy? Sign up for a budgeting class. Are you concerned your smartphone is too intelligent? Enlist the help of a patient teenager or friendly technology guru. Step outside your comfort level a little bit and your mind will appreciate the effort.
Speaking of comfort levels, let’s talk about your daily routine. While putting your car keys and eyeglasses in the same place after you use them is convenient and time effective, you might want to consider challenging your mind by changing up a few of your daily habits now and again. Instead of driving the same way home from the golf course, take a different route. Are all your phone numbers stored in your smartphone? Try to dial one or two of them from memory on a daily basis. Focus on staying in the present moment instead of letting your mind wander as you walk through the house. Like any other muscle in your body, using your brain in a different way keeps it strong.
Be a reader
It may be easy to watch a story unfold on television, but your brain prefers you read it in a book. According to a study conducted by researchers at Emory University, becoming involved in a novel improves connections in your brain, especially in the areas of the brain responsible for language comprehension, sensation and movement.
Another great way to keep your brain sharp is by exercising. A University of Illinois study showed that even 45 minutes of exercise three times a week increased the volume of the brain and helped with cognitive functions such as scheduling and multitasking. Exercise is good for your hearing, too. Like other organs in your body, your ears depend on oxygen-rich blood flow to keep them healthy – especially the hair cells of your inner ear. When these cells are damaged by poor circulation, they do not regenerate, resulting in hearing loss.
Treat hearing loss
Your ears can collect all the noise they want, but without strong auditory brain function, you’ll won’t understand them as recognizable sound. Research shows that untreated hearing loss can actually result in atrophy of the auditory region, which is why it’s important to schedule regular hearing tests and address hearing loss immediately.
The longer your hearing loss goes untreated, the more the brain forgets how to hear, making aural rehabilitation that much harder once you are fitted with a hearing device. Fortunately, once your hearing loss has been detected and treated, studies indicate your quality of life improves along with your hearing and you reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s. Hearing aid users are also less likely to develop anxiety, depression and experience social isolation.