Mind games that can sharpen the brain

05/15/2014 10:09 AM

05/15/2014 10:10 AM

Q. My wife and I are in our ’80s and living in an assisted-living facility. My wife was recently diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. We participate in many activities that keep us physically and socially engaged all day long. Our issues are in the evening, when it’s just the two of us. My wife is searching for “mind games” that we can play at night that may slow the progression of the Alzheimer’s. We are computer-literate, have an iPad (we Skype with our grandchildren), and are able to navigate games and apps. But there are so many choices out there. What do you recommend?

Robert R.,

Boca Raton

A. It’s wonderful to hear that, despite your wife’s memory problems, you both remain physically and socially engaged all day long. Keeping up your respective long-time hobbies and interests that you enjoy and find mentally stimulating, such as knitting, reading or music, is also believed to enhance brain health.

A great resource for finding “mind games,” or what’s popularly know as “brain training,” is the website of SharpBrains, a company that tracks health and wellness applications of brain science. Its founder and CEO, Alvaro Fernandez, writes in his blog that, “Anything we do involving novelty, variety and challenge stimulates the brain and can contribute to building capacity and brain reserve.”

Fernandez advises choosing a game “that exercises a core brain-based capacity … that is relevant to real-life outcomes.” For example, in his list of the “ Top 50 Brain Teasers and Games” that his readers have enjoyed the most is a set of five exercises that are intended to improve one’s ability to keep information current for a short period while using the information. Hmmm … I suspect it’s easier said than done.

He also writes that a minimum “dose of 15 hours, performed over 8 weeks or less, is necessary for real improvement.”

The newest discoveries in Brain Science have focused on brain plasticity — how learning changes the brain by forming new connections between brain cells, or neurons. That’s why taking a class or workshop to learn something new — say, cooking or learning a new language — can be beneficial. It’s also a wonderful way to meet people outside your immediate circle of friends who share the same interests.

Simple games like Sudoku, daily exercise and even the Wii video games provide mental stimulation, and there are also several online cognitive training services such as Lumosity, Posit Science, Dakim Brain Fitness and CogniFit that offer “personalized training” programs that they claim can improve memory and attention.

Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at nancy@ senioritymatters.com.

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