Aging Parents and Memory: The Questionable Impact of Brain Games on Memory. Latest Research

Memory loss: At a certain age I think it’s safe to say everyone–aging parents and us– thinks about it. Many boomers and seniors play bridge, learn a new language, and train their brains using innovative technology, hoping to stave off memory loss.

But the effectiveness of brain-training technology seems to be questionable in real life, according to AARP’s 4/14/ 15 Brain Health Blog, “Major Report Shows What Works and What Doesn’t for Better Brain Health,” written by Elizabeth Agnvall. It’s based upon an April 2015-released Institute of Medicine of the National Academies report, COGNITIVE AGING–Progress in Understanding and Opportunities for Action co-sponsored by AARP, the National Institute on Aging, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other government and nonprofit organizations.

Ms. Agnvall discusses this “groundbreaking new report that spells out what older Americans can do to keep their brains healthy into very old age, while offering insight into the lifestyle habits and medications that can lead to cognitive decline.”

It’s an informative, not-to-be missed easy-to-read post (the study itself looks to be 373 pages). Find out, based on this latest reputable research: “What Helps,” “What Hurts,” and–quoted below–
“Buyer Beware.” 

  • Brain games and other cognitive training: Although research shows that brain training on computers and video games can improve attention and memory as they relate to the games, few studies show that those skills transfer to real life. The report recommends that consumers carefully evaluate claims of companies selling brain games. “People may fall prey to using products that have not been proven to be effective and think they will help them in all areas of their lives,” Blazer said.
  • Supplements: Americans spend more than $30 billion a year on dietary supplements, yet “there just is no good, consistent evidence that vitamins provide value in improving brain health,” Blazer said.
  • Vitamin E does not seem to help brain health and has been linked to a higher risk of death in large doses.
  • Vitamins B6 and B12 provide no benefit to older adults who are not folate deficient.
  • Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a decline in brain health, but taking vitamin D supplements has not been shown to improve memory, motor speed or other aspects of brain health. Moreover, says the report, high levels of vitamin D are linked to attention problems and cognitive impairment.
  • Ginkgo biloba “is not considered effective in preventing cognitive decline.

So now we have the latest information on cognitive* aging as we try to help aging parents and ourselves age well.

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Note: *Cognitive– a term used often in my counseling, but probably not common to most–defined by Merriam‑Webster dictionary: of, relating to, or involving conscious mental activities (such as thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering)

Related: Memory Posts–Click tab under header for past posts about memory

 Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

The Importance of Memories for Elders and Aging Parents

“Time takes all but memories,” an inscription on a sundial that inspired a memorable sermon. That inspired my post last year, with suggestions for helping aging parents do things that will create happy memories. Following up on that inscription and that post–

We know “the whole is the sum of its parts.” We learned that in school. When people are old, with less to occupy their days, memories from the earliest days to the present take on more and more importance. The little piece below, from a student, brings it all full circle.

Today, I interviewed my grandmother for part of a research paper I’m working on for my Psychology class.  When I asked her to define success in her own words, she said, “Success is when you look back at your life and the memories make you smile.”
Here’s to creating more memories that make aging parents and those we care about smile.
 *              *            *
 Related: Making Family Memories 
             Time Takes All But Memories
Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Making Memories for Older People


Sharing with SantaMemories are part of our being. They allow us to momentarily recapture ourDad's 90th youth, milestone events, surprises large and small and so much more. If “Time Takes  All But Memories” (August post) from elders who’ve lost spouses, good health, friends, family etc., can we supply happy memories for them–as well as for aging parents and the older people we care about?

Five suggestions

1. Momentarily recapturing youth: What immediately comes to mind is celebrating a lady’s 100th birthday with lunch at a bar. (She died at 104.) I’m quite certain she never forgot that lunch, nor have I.

What made it memorable? Doing something no longer normal for her, that was once an enjoyable, normal part of her life. An added surprise and obvious memory-maker: The fact that two strangers–young guys–sent drinks to our table in honor of her birthday, thrilled her. (I couldn’t have staged that; if I could have, believe me I would have.) Can telling the wait staff how old your guest is produce something extra special?

2. Doing something that’s “today” could be a special event that comes to town; an outing to something contemporary that you go to together; something that elders know about, but may not have experienced, or an ordinary occurrence that wasn’t ordinary in their day.

That said, I remember Sr. Advisor R phoning to tell us (we’re far-away-living adult children) that some younger friends (in their 40’s and 50’s; R was in her 80’s), took her to a gay bar one night. R has always had a worldly view of life, which includes staying up to date on what’s going on.

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

Picnic by the ocean: Mother (79) and me

3.  Family togetherness: may produce the best memories for aging parents. Don’t we, in fact, remember special times with family?

It could be a holiday or a gathering when all children and grandchildren are together. Interestingly we can amass all family members from near and far for the funeral, so why not do it while aging parents/grandparents are able to enjoy it and the memories it leaves?

4.  Reunions and visitations from meaningful people in elders’ lives: Can we provide the occasion for childhood friends, buddies from military service, and old friends to be reconnect, share past memories and possibly create new ones?

5. A collage of photos: Today we still have photos of special times (often stored in boxes). Tomorrow most photos will no doubt be stored in our devices’ memories.

Can’t those who do crafts, make a collage of photos and put them in a picture frame as large as an older person’s empty wall permits? It captures memories that can be relived each time the collage is viewed.

With hopes that the above contributes towards our goal of helping parents age well until the end.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents and Us: Memory Loss or Loss of Focus?

I usually publish my blog Tuesday night. Yet I was immersed in readying for, and cleaning up after, a New Year’s Eve party and completely forgot. While multitasking has been a constant in the lives of many of us with old/older parents, the following from Mayo Clinic is a quick, timely read for me and quite possibly for you.

I wrote about disorganization at holiday time and feeling like ADD was at work. So this MD’s short answer, “Stop multitasking and learn how to focus (If link is problematic, Google Mayo Clinic; write “Adult Health” in search box; click any Adult Health post and put “Stop Multitasking” in search box on post’s page), speaks to me with 4 timely suggestions. Indeed, they are doable and 1 (or all 4) could be considered a New Year’s resolution for some. In previous posts (see “Related” below).

Sr. Advisor R talks about how she decided it was essential that she learned to discipline herself to focus. Widowed at 51, as she aged alone in her home, she began forgetting where she put things. When she lost her keys and could ask no one for help, she told herself “You’ve got to pay attention.” And she realized her head was often thinking one thing, while her hands were doing something else (like putting the keys in an unlikely place).

It’s easy for me–and no doubt us if we are caregivers and/or have aging parents–to  juggle too much and lose focus. Depending on our age, we may or may not have memory concerns about ourselves.  On the other hand, when older parents start forgetting, an alarm bell is often triggered

. Since Sr. Advisor R, 100-years-old and my mother-in-law, is way ahead of me in life’s lessons, I needn’t share the 4 suggestions with her. She lives by them. That said, sharing these suggestions with elders who seem frustrated–or are frustrating us–because of memory problems, is another way we can help parents age well.
Related: 2 posts written in early January 2012–basically this same time of year: and with Sr. Advisor psychiatrist, Dr. Bud’s (MD) observations and suggestions and A Burke Rehabilitation (NY) physician distinguishes between benign forgetfulness and dementia.  A model difficult conversation is included here..

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

Senior Games Offer Cognitive Gains

 On July 8th I wrote about a new game, Road Tour, that researchers find restores cognitive processing speed and improves field of vision. Peripheral vision evidently shrinks as people age and affects safe driving. Here are details, plus a video, from the UK’s Daily Mail on-line:
Game on: Playing the Road Tour game could prove to be beneficial

Three months later (9/4/13) several publications inform us that the scientific magazine, Nature, is publishing findings that cognitive scientists say: “are a significant development in understanding how to strengthen old brains.” (NY Times 9/4/13) plus a snippet: “Cognitive scientists have found that a simple game that forced players to juggle two different tasks, helped players improve the short-term memory and long-term focus of older adults. Researchers said those as old as  80 began to show neurological patterns of people in their 20s.” (NY Times 9/9/13.) Read the complete 9/4/13 NY Times article:  

Doesn’t it sound like the above games hold significant promise for older people? Older people, of course, need access to a computer.

Googling or Yahooing “brain games” and “games for seniors” brings forth a proliferation of games from which to choose.  Many enterprising people are jumping on the “Senior Games” band wagon.

Soon perhaps, a reputable company or organization will find it financially advantageous to rate the games, to help us know which claims of aging brain improvement are valid. For now we must do our own homework and stay current with news from reputable sources–as we strive to help parents age well.

The progressively challenging video game NeuroRacer requires players to navigate a winding mountain road.  Performance improved in those who played more often.

Gazzaley lab U of San Francisco

Top Photo: UK Daily Mail on-line
Botton Photo: Boston Globe


Difficult Discussion Strategies–Memory Loss (with 1/2/15 update)*

“Don’t dramatize small failures,” cautions 92-year old Woman’s Club member Edie. She elaborates: “People have weaknesses, but they also have strengths so don’t zero in on the weakness—like forgetfulness—it’s only one piece.  When it happens in younger people, they say they’re only ‘senior moments.’  They don’t make a big deal about it.”

A senior moment?  A potential time bomb?  Initially we may wonder how to distinguish between the two? Then we wonder how to bring up the subject.

First, a highly regarded professional, Dr. Pasquale Fonzetti, MD,PhD, Chairman of the Institutional Review Board, Associate Director of the Memory Evaluation and Treatment Service (METS) and Staff Neurologist, The Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in NY, explains “There’s benign forgetfulness.  We all forget but we keep our checkbook, we go to work, we do our daily activities.”

Then, he says, there’s forgetfulness that can be a sign of dementia and should be a concern “if it’s interfering with everyday activities—if it’s interfering with social or occupational functions or activities of daily living.”  Dr. Fonzetti gives this example: “When older parents start forgetting appointments, forgetting things they have done before like how to balance their checkbook or how to follow a recipe that they’ve prepared many times, an evaluation is called for.” He further tells us, dementia is a slow process.

*Since December 2014 a TV ad has been running, sponsored by the Alzherimer’s Association. It features a wife who has lost her keys….again. The husband finds them in the refrigerator. I’m reminded of another of Dr. Fonzetti’s many examples, when I spoke with him– of a person’s leaving the checkbook in the freezer. At the time I thought it an exaggeration and omitted it from his last quote in the preceding paragraph. Obviously I shouldn’t have.

Dr. Fonzetti stresses that “ify”–my word–memory is a delicate subject. He elaborates, saying that adult children come in with their parents and even well-meaning children don’t always handle it well. “It’s important—very important—to talk very diplomatically and with respect to a parent… Proud parents would hate to lose independence, especially if it’s related to a cognitive misfunction.”

We obviously don’t want to make parents feel unhappy, defensive, or outright angry or scared.  Referring to the discussion strategies in Saturday’s post, we could say something like:

“You know, Mom/Dad, lately I’ve noticed—and maybe you have too—“(this pulls them in as an equal participant) “that you’ve been asking the same questions over and overYou know it could be your medication

(Here you’re  inserting a benign, but legitimate possibility, not worst-case scenario, thus lessening the emotional part of the discussion).

Parental response: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You don’t know what I’m talking about.”

(We repeat back and we confirm respect with an accurate account)

“Well, yesterday you asked if I was going to cousin Joe’s party and I answered you—several times. And you just asked me again today twice, if I was going to cousin Joe’s.”

Response:  “Of course, I didn’t hear you.” (Possibly true, possibly pride.)

(Now we reflect back, confirming what was said, and reiterating caring.) 

“Yes, you may not have heard me the three times yesterday and now again today.  You know it could be a hearing problem.”

(We offer another reasonable possibility since there is one; otherwise, we reiterate “medication.”)            

Do you think it makes sense to check it out with Dr. Smith?”

 (Respectful, validates parent participation.)

In some instances, using the 2014 Alzheimer’s Assn. TV ad mentioned earlier as a conversation starter, could help begin a difficult conversation.

If safety is not an issue (there’s no threat to life and limb), seeking a doctor’s help in a timely manner, ideally initiated by (otherwise in cooperation with) parents, is best. If safety is an issue, it’s obviously necessary to act immediately. In both instances jumping to conclusions can be problematical. (An old post “A Sad Story,”  is a true story about jumping to conclusions and how easily one can fall into the trap.)

In addition to the discussion strategies, it’s helpful if we can:
  • Gain information (reading, internet, friends) and check out concerns with our parents’ doctor, before taking actions that could change a life or damage a relationship.
  • Be supportive.  Look for creative or alternative solutions.  If we aren’t creative, it may be helpful to seek out a friend (with an older parent) who is.
  • Beware of role-reversal.
  • Recognize that proving we’re right may be less important than reaching our goal.  (Do we want to be right or do we want our parents to “buy in”?)
  • Say as little as possible–the less said, the better–when having an uncomfortable or difficult conversation.  And stick to the subject. It’s easy to get side-tracked or add a well-intended tid-bit or thoughtless word that makes us vulnerable to an argument.
  • Keep “What’s the Goal” first and foremost in mind. The doctor will ultimately be called in any event (immediately if safety is at stake). Otherwise there’s wiggle room.

isn’t having parent cooperation the best way to help them age well? Getting them to buy into–or at least accept–your suggestions, leads to the smoothest start….even if it takes a lot of patience and some additional time.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Alzheimer’s Association:
The American Academy of Family Physicians:
The Mayo Clinic:  describes itself as “a trusted, nonprofit resource” that offers support and information; “not a substitute for professional advice.”

Help Parents Age Well: Elderly Memory and Music

My cousin, a naturally gifted pianist, is on the board of a foundation that loans fine pianos to promising young students. This past summer she mentioned new research connecting music and memory in people with Alzheimer’s. It was a general conversation that I filed away in my memory.

I just heard–and watched on TV–an impressive segment demonstrating this connection.
1.  Research seems to validate that music is deeply embedded in memory.
2.  Personalizing a dementia suffer’s favorite music, played through an iPod, seems–amazingly– to generate certain memory, joy and on-target communication in people with memory loss.

While NPR featured this music-memory connection on an April 2012 program, thoughts of a gift to help parents with dementia age well just entered my mind. (*Note Mayo Clinic’s definition of dementia.)

Link to this NPR piece Watch the video. A man who has been “out of it” (in a nursing home for 10 years) comes back “into it”–stimulated by the music from an iPod. (He’s a different person from the person on the NY TV segment I watched,  but the result is similar.) How heartening is this!?…especially if a family member or friend suffers from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. The text accompanying NPR’s piece includes a box with “how to’s” for introducing music to those with memory loss. Also, the audio “Listen Now” on this NPR piece has excellent, related material.

It would seem personalized music from a simple, relatively inexpensive iPod (shuffle, nano) adds an invaluable ingredient–a priceless gift actually–for those who have been lost to dementia.

These people have not aged well–it’s so sad. And so frustrating to feel we’re helpless. But now it seems we can make a difference. We can–by gifting a small iPod device and a bit of work on our part to download the perfect music–help many with major memory loss age better, if not well.


*Dementia isn’t a specific disease. Instead, dementia describes a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning…. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of a progressive dementia….Memory loss generally occurs in dementia, but memory loss alone doesn’t mean you have dementia.”

Check out: “Newsworthy”–right sidebar.Timely links to research and information from top universities and respected professionals, plus some practical stuff to help parents age well.