The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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At 69 years old, Ronald Reagan is the oldest president to assume office. After serving two terms Reagan left the White House in 1989 and in 1994 he disclosed that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Known for his quick wit, charm and charisma, news of The Gipper’s health came as a shock to many Americans. Baby boomers can remember him as the host of Death Valley Days sponsored by Borax in 1966 with his booming voice and poise.
TV journalist Leslie Stahl recounted a meeting with Reagan in 1986 in her 2000 book "Reporting Live": “Reagan didn't seem to know who I was...Oh, my, he's gonzo, I thought I'd have to go out on the lawn tonight and tell my countrymen that the president of the United States is a doddering space cadet." She goes on to say at the end of the interview he had regained his alertness and was more animated so she didn't say anything.
It’s been more than 20 years since this encounter, and the global medical community continues to search for a cure for Alzheimer's disease. Their focus has widened to include prevention as studies suggest several lifestyle factors can influence a person’s risk of developing the disease that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.
The number of Americans living with the disease is quickly growing. According to the Alzheimer's Association, 5.4 million Americans are currently living with the disease and by 2050, as many as 16 million Americans will be diagnosed.
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The economic toll of the disease is alarming: last year 14.9 million people provided 17 billion hours of unpaid care to those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias; the economic value of the unpaid care totaled $202.6 billion, according to the association.
Although there is still no treatment, new evidence suggests it may be possible to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's through a combination of healthful habits that stimulate your mind, improve your mood and sharpen your memory.
Many companies are developing products and services (and even games) designed to keep boomers’ brains active.
Mind360 is a cognitive training platform for enhancing and maintaining people's mental fitness. Its brain training games are designed to help strengthen key cognitive functions including memory, attention, thinking and reasoning in enjoyable ways.
Danny Aboody, CEO of www.Mind360.com offered the following tips and advice on these unique cognitive training methods:
Boomer: How would you define brain fitness compared to physical fitness?
Aboody: In physical fitness you train your body, for brain fitness you train your brain.
We use the physical fitness terms to explain the importance and mechanism of brain training. Just like physical fitness, brain fitness requires perseverance. Building and maintaining our brain capabilities require having them exercised.
In physical training we relate to specific muscles training; when training our abdominal muscles, our biceps, etc…we complete specific exercises in order to be effective.
Take training for basketball: specific workouts and training for shooting, dribbling, blocking and dunking will improve your game skills more than just playing ball. Using a brain training software will have a more focused effect on the different "muscles" of the brain that we do not normally use. MRI imaging has shown that brain training stimulates the blood flow to different areas of the brain related to the cognitive skills being trained, this in turn builds more cells and more nerve connections and enable better function of this brain area. To summarize this point: A good brain training program is a one that focuses on specific cognitive skills, and has interesting activities to support the trainee perseverance.
Boomer: Where do you see a significant opportunity for brain fitness innovation and what is the a hurdle to that innovation?
Aboody: Our brain fitness is effected by our lifestyle, heredity, age, health condition, and other factors. At this point, we do not have an effective tool for measuring the brain's cognitive potential or progress made with brain training.
In addition, today's brain fitness is mainly preventive. Our knowledge in brain rehabilitation is limited, but a lot of research is taking place. In the near term, the challenge is in creating more effective brain training systems that will help more people train their brain for longer. When we compare the physical training alternatives to brain training alternatives, we still see that the offering is limited, so that not enough people train and maintain training.
Boomer: What are some things people can do to improve their brain health?
--Live healthy and active lives; blood and oxygen flow to the brain is required for brain functionality.
--Learning: academic, or adopt new behaviors.
--Train your brain: Our body is using the minimum effort required for its tasks, and that includes our brain; if we can, we will do something automatic instead of thinking about alternatives.
Boomer: Could you share MIND360's brain health tips?
Aboody: Our brain is lazy, it will try not to go where it's uncomfortable and therefore the areas not in use will degenerate faster. Boomers should strive to have an active brain overall, here are some techniques to achieve this:
Changing habits is hard, so it helps to have a mnemonic device to remember what to do, we recommend The MIND360's ADLT:
--Active: take a daily walk, use the stairs at least once a day or have a hobby that involves physical activity. Including a friend in your new activities helps with persistence and you can hold each other accountable. Small things like parking far away from your destination to encourage more walking add up over time.
--Do Something different: use different paths driving to work, use your weaker hand for tooth brushing, turn your computer mouse upside down. Breaking out of your daily norms will keep your brain more alert.
--Learn Something new: take a course at the local university or learn from books about anything that interests you, learn a new language, or new card game.
--Train your brain: use any of the specific brain trainers that are out there
Boomer: What is brain training for baby boomers and how effective is it? What is the cost involved?
Aboody: When we address baby boomers, we are talking about slowing the natural age related cognitive degradation and Alzheimer’s prevention. The natural cognitive degradation looks like memory slips or a shorter concentration span that we all occasionally feel.
Studies show that cognitive training is very effective in the middle-aged years and the improvement is sustainable if the person keeps practicing. When we talk about Alzheimer’s prevention – brain training does not prevent the disease, but it may postpone its symptoms. This can be explained using a highway analogy: our brain is like a six-lane highway; if all lanes are well preserved, the "traffic" will hardly slow if one lane has physical damage—the other lanes will pick up more traffic. Brain training builds more lanes so that a well-trained brain can handle information when Alzheimer’s effects part of them.
When we think about staying fit, we are generally thinking of our body parts from the neck down, but the health of your brain plays a critical role in almost everything you do: thinking, feeling, remembering, working, playing and even sleeping.
The good news is that emerging evidence suggests there are steps we can take to help keep our brain healthier as we age. Like other parts of our bodies, our brain may lose some agility as we age, but ii can deteriorate even more if we don't take care of it. Science is unlocking many mysteries of the brain, but they don't have all the answers yet.
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