Keep Your Brain Young
By Dr Kim Hazendonk
We can continue to build new neural pathways even as we age, to help keep our brains healthy. And there is even fun involved!
Like many people this year, I have discovered the joy of playing word games like ‘Wordle’ and ‘Waffle’ (and if any of my friends are reading this, please don’t send me any more links to word games, I’m trying to limit my screen time!).
During my career as a Neuropsychologist, I worked with older adults and helped diagnose different types of dementia. ‘Dementia’ is a general term used to describe the loss of cognitive abilities, such as memory and language, that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. Although we are learning more each day, currently there is still no cure for dementia. What we do know is that there are things we can do to reduce our risk of cognitive decline as we age.
Recently my friend and colleague Andrew Beveridge interviewed me for his Leadership Today podcast.
He asked me what we can do to help prevent our brains from slowing down as we age. I spoke about the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), a clear fluid that surrounds our brain and acts like a lubricant. It helps prevent injury by acting like a shock absorber and it also helps clear waste products from the brain. The level of CSF declines as we age but the good news is there are things we can do to keep CSF at youthful levels. One thing we can do is to continually exercise our brain through mental challenges and novel learning.
Challenging our brains, whether it be learning a new language, playing Wordle, doing crossword puzzles or online escape rooms, grows new neural pathways in the brain, leading to better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia.
There has been some conjecture as to whether word puzzles keep our brains healthy. The important part is the ‘stretch’. Do you need to operate outside of autopilot to figure the puzzles out? Are you being challenged to think differently, laterally? Do you sometimes even fail in your problem-solving attempts? This is learning, and it’s good for our brains.
Something that is not good for our brains is too much screen time. I am very pleased that only one Wordle and Waffle are released per day, and I am mindful of the amount of time I spend on my phone.
I do like the human connection that comes from discussing the daily word challenge with my son and my friends. Connecting regularly with others (preferably face-to-face) is a strong predictor of overall well-being.
Now, is anyone else dreaming about 5-letter words?!