A new study published by UCLA researchers hints that our understanding of cognitive impairment is incomplete. There is a chance that there are additional options for older individuals and their caregivers to maintain mental sharpness and ability to retrieve memories, thereby avoiding certain health hazards associated with the loss of cognitive impairment.
There’s that old saying about wisdom coming with age. However, this is not the reality for many older individuals. Memory issues often arise in the 50s and 60s. Among patients in their 70s and 80s, memory-related illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are distressingly common. Is it possible to maintain a razor sharp brain into old age?
According to conventional wisdom, coupled with new studies, a good way to train your brain so that it remains sharp is through brain games. However, just like with any exercise that is supposed to make you a better person, the training cannot bear fruits if it’s not regular and consistent. The easiest way to maintain consistency in any given activity is to ensure that you enjoy that activity. Enjoyable activities don’t become boring to you after just a few sessions.
The recently published research by UCLA indicates that yoga, commonly assumed to be good for little more than establishing inner peace and becoming flexible, can actually be a potent weapon in the fight against cognitive impairment.
Of course, not everyone has the strength and flexibility to execute common yoga positions and exercises. Fortunately, yoga is not the only tool in the cognitive impairment arsenal. Another realistic alternative: meditation. Meditation is not as challenging for stiff-jointed practitioners as yoga, but it still requires new modes of thinking that do not come naturally to everyone.
Brain games do not require above-average flexibility or uncanny serenity, but they too have their challenges. For instance, in old-fashioned brain games, there is no point in trying to work out puzzles that you will never be able to solve. On the other hand, some brain games are structured in a way that people are able to advance their ability from one stage to the next. For instance, brain games from NeuroNation are structured in a way that players are able to enjoy themselves while improving their cognitive abilities, rather than feeling challenged and helpless.
There are also a few other options in the market. Smartphone makers and software developers continue to introduce apps that help users challenge their cognitive abilities — though not all are worth the download.
The stark truth: While there are several options that empower users to enhance their mental sharpness and fight long-term cognitive impairment, very few are enjoyable or even that effective.
According to the May 10 UCLA study, which was conducted with 25 participants who enrolled in yoga classes for three months, yoga is the top of the list when compared to meditation and brain games.
The study also indicates that yoga has more far-reaching benefits when compared to the other two programs. Apart from just improving memory and cognitive function, “yoga provided a broader benefit than memory training because it also helped with mood, anxiety and coping skills,” said Helen Lavretsky, the study’s senior author and a professor in residence in UCLA’s department of psychiatry.
The study also found that three months’ worth of yoga training and meditation also helped to reduce the cognitive and emotional problems that have been linked to various forms of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Enhancing cognitive abilities is often seen as an attempt to prepare for old age. While it serves a great purpose for better memory and mental sharpness later in life, research has established that people are actually working hard to reap the benefits as they come in their present lives.
For instance, companies are already manufacturing drugs that students are using in college to get better grades. One of the most famous in the market is the Limitless Pill, from which Bradley Cooper’s 2011 science fiction movie, Limitless, originated. Vice published an article about the Limitless Pill, which claimed that the drug — whose medical name is Modafinil — could actually end up making us “superhuman workers.”
UK’s The Telegraph also published another article that claimed that the drug has been found to boost performance in class, with students claiming that $75 worth of the pill could take them through the entire exam session.
Nonetheless, while Modafinil is the only clinically proven smart drug, it comes with several side effects that could be life threatening. Some of them include dizziness, upper respiratory tract infection, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, agitation, and insomnia, among others.
In summary, there are several solutions that can be used to fight cognitive impairment. However, some of those solutions can be challenging to implement while others pose various health risks. But it all comes down to the individual: what they like and what they are capable of doing on a regular basis. Yoga can be fun, but if your bones and joints are not ready for it, it could prove to be a tough battle.
On the other hand, meditation is a skill; it is not just about sitting somewhere quietly and hoping the chi will flow through your nervous system.
Therefore, even if brain games do not top the list of the best way to fight cognitive impairment according to the UCLA study, for some they can be the easiest to implement and maintain. Bottom line: Customize a program that you can stick with and that works for you.
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