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


Memory Gains (not Losses) in New Study–average age 84: Help for Aging Parents, Grandparents and Eventually Us

“Oops! I’ve forgotten that name–I know it as well as my own.”
“My memory’s not what it used to be.”
“How could I have forgotten?!”

Sound familiar? At a certain age, we begin to hear–if not utter–those phrases. While we don’t think too much about it initially, it does become troublesome and worrisome after a period of time. The rising numbers of bridge players, Sudoku players, crossword puzzle converts, etc. no doubt hope exercising the brain will stave off memory problems or improve their current memory levels.

Heartening research: News comes from a small study–indeed one of the first–to assess the effects a computerized-memory training program has on memory. Published in UCLA’s U Magazine, courtesy UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine, the article is short so it’s reposted below. (Click link to check out the magazine’s entire Summer 2013 issue + back issues.) People with an average age of 84 were in the control groups, so the potential for helping parents and grandparents improve their memory and thus age well seems to be at—

 The Cutting Edge (U Magazine’s Column’s title)

Fitness Training for the Brain

Fitness Training for the BrainUCLA researchers found that older adults who regularly used a brain-fitness program played on a computer demonstrated significantly improved memory and language skills. The team studied 59 participants with an average age of 84, recruited from local retirement communities in Southern California.

The volunteers were split into two groups. The first group used a brain-fitness program for an average of 73.5 20-minute sessions across a six-month period, while a second group played it less than 45 times during the same period. Researchers found that the first group demonstrated significantly higher improvement in memory and language skills, compared to the second group.

Age-related memory decline affects approximately 40 percent of older adults and is characterized by self-perception of memory loss and decline in memory performance. The study’s findings add to the field, exploring whether or not such brain-fitness tools may help improve language and memory and may ultimately help protect individuals from the cognitive decline associated with aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous studies have shown that engaging in mental activities can help improve memory, but little research has been done to determine if the numerous brain-fitness games and memory-training programs on the market are effective. This study is one of the first to assess the cognitive effects of a computerized memory-training program.

Is it a good guess that computerized memory training software will be available as soon as some entrepreneurial people can produce it? The challenge will be to do the research to make certain the software comes from a reputable/reliable source. In addition, the probability of better memory should be the key to converting non-computer-using elders to computer users. And won’t that be a win-win as we continue our efforts to help aging parents and other older people in our lives.


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.


Help Aging Parents: A 98-year-old Teaches Us about Them and about Us–1

Sr. Advisor R would be the first to tell you she never gives advice unless asked.  She learned that early on.  “They usually just go ahead and do what they want…even when they tell you their problems, they don’t ask for advice.” (Those are the old people.) Her young friends, however, (younger than we), seek her advice on many subjects–including their aging parents. That said, we spent 4 1/2 hours together yesterday–affording me additional insights into why R is so valued.

R invited me to lunch at a restaurant with gorgeous landscaping–flowers galore–and wonderful food. Then she wanted to take me to a certain store and buy me the sun block she knew I needed and get herself some bedroom slippers. R obviously doesn’t drive. I picked her up, as do friends on such occasions. R gets out of the house, takes care of errands, and reciprocates by “treating” the friend who’s driving. Smart, right?

So I share with you advice from the half-day we spent together.

To begin, you need to know that like Grandma, her mother, R has devised expressions that she sprinkles throughout her conversation. My favorite Grandma-saying “Angels Can Do No More” legitimizes when people do all they can–sometimes to seemingly no avail. (I think about caregivers.) We need to appreciate when we’ve done our best. R often intersperses Grandma’s expressions with her own, never failing to credit Grandma where credit is due.

Be good to yourself. “Keep it simple” is a given in R’s life. “Make it easy for yourself,” she says. “You get too many things going on and it’s hard, especially as you get older.” Add to that her saying “Don’t abuse yourself, you get enough from the outside,” and you understand another aspect of R’s philosophy of living. Example: she doesn’t overdo eating rich food (that would constitute “abuse”), because she doesn’t feel good afterwards.  Call it discipline or call it not abusing yourself, call it knowing yourself well enough and acting on it.

Pay attention. Years ago R said she realized her head was doing one thing while her hands were doing something else and she was forgetting where she put things. She was widowed and living alone. There was no one to help her find a misplaced object. (Think misplaced glasses, keys.) She knew she needed to pay attention to what she was doing with her hands and avoid distractions. In all these years I’ve never known her to lose anything.

Help your memory. In her early married years her husband, who was older and whom she dearly loved, told her that it’s easier to put things down on a pad of paper and relieve yourself of having to remember them (but have the pad to come back to), than to try remembering everything. He said keeping all the stuff in your head isn’t what your brain is for. Result: R has a little note pad in each room. And her memory, at 98, is as good or better than mine.

This will be too long if I don’t stop momentarily…..To be continued Tuesday 

Help Aging Parents: Memory and Multi-tasking-continued from yesterday

“You just answered your questions,” Dr. Bud said. “Multi-tasking becomes problematical for older people at different ages, causing them to lose focus.”

Losing focus, he points out, is different from losing memory.  With the former something isn’t registering because of distraction, lack of concentration, a lapse.  Dr. Bud’s  example: our hands may do things automatically without it “registering” when we’re thinking about something else—like putting the car keys in an unlikely place because we see a file drawer, realize we need to get something out and need two hands to do so.

“When we find what we’ve misplaced, memory is re-established: ‘Oh yes, I went over to the file and put my keys down next to it in order to be able to open the drawer and take those papers out.'”

There is a solution for older people (and possibly for some of us as well) who experience these lapses. The key is to anticipate the need to maintain focus (for example when we have something in our hands), then concentrate.  Sr. Advisor R assures us it can be done. Indeed she lives alone and doesn’t lose things. And that should be reassuring.

On the other hand, we realize how this kind of forgetfulness can cause some older parents and their children to over-react, fearing this is the beginning of something serious.

Should this be the case we all need to realize it may be nothing more than neglecting the discipline to anticipate and focus; or it may be a reaction to medications or something else relatively benign. But should there be any doubt—

In our efforts to help parents age well, which include efforts to empower them, our parents’ primary physician is the first person to contact. Ideally our parents should be the ones to do that. We, of course, can offer to go with them to the appointment or even make the phone call for the appointment. We can reiterate the goal is to be certain there’s no problem.

And we can always take over if there’s great resistance and/or life or limb seem in jeopardy. That said, according to a neurologist at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and Medical Research Center in White Plains, NY., a show of respect and actions that empower are most important at these emotional times.