Growing a New Brain – Revisited

Some time ago I wrote about brain training and promised to write about my experiences . This is a series of interactive graduated brain games developed as a collaborative effort between neurologists at Stanford and Harvard. Research indicates that our brains continuously produce new neuronal and glial brain cells which then migrate to the hippocampus. The catch is that they only survive to migrate if they are stimulated by mental activity and if they’re not exposed to too much cortisol (a major stress hormone).

When doing the Lumosity brain games, you’re given a score for each game and at the end of each session, can look up your “Brain Performance Index” (BPI) and history. This screen will also tell you how you rate against other players in your age group. My start point was a BPI of 567 and by mid June when I stopped playing due to the demands of caring for my desperately ill closest friend, my BPI had risen to 928. Now that my friend is out of immediate danger, I’m back on track and intend to continue. It will be fascinating to see how my sixty year old brain continues to improve over the coming years.

This game also me to see the effects of other actions in my life. For example; if I miss too many doses of Equilib, or get too little sleep, my scores quickly show it. Lack of vigorous physical exercise for a few days also shows up as poorer scores. This alone helps keep me on track for treating myself responsibly.

One of the most fascinating aspects about this experience was playing a face, name and detail recognition and memory game. I’ve never been great at matching names to faces so I approached this with some trepidation, but consoled myself with the thought that it’s not where you start out that matters, but whether you improve.

Starting this particular game, I swear I heard unused brain cells creak as they were reluctantly dragged into action and parts of my brain felt exhausted in five minutes flat; but I got better!! In fact I improved surprisingly quickly judging by how I moved up in the performance ranks; quite useful feedback. Since the game keeps getting harder as your skills improve, being able to look back and see how far you’ve actually come, helps keep me motivated.

It’s expected that about half of the North American population will develop dementia and the research shows that the more active the brain and body the lower the probability and the slower the development of symptoms. Since most adults fear losing their mind more than death, using this type of fun, simple tool sure makes sense to me.

PS I purchased a one year subscription for my fourteen and fifteen year old grandkids, not feeling terribly hopeful that they would continue, but to my pleased surprise, they get a real kick out of it and do the short daily sessions almost every day. They too take satisfaction in seeing their BPI’s continue to rise.

Feed your brain. You use it every day.

David Gilbert

Research and Implementation

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