Category Archives: Seniors

Information and useful news about different pathologies, illnesses, and disorders that affect seniors: Cognitive deterioration, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, loss of mobility, etc. Different professionals show us the latest news, and advancements, and help us understand the senior health.

45+ Exciting Games For Seniors To Help Stimulate The Brain

Chess, Monopoly, Scrabble, Go fish—and once upon a time, I bet most of you were addicted to Candy Crush. Games are not solely a form of childhood amusement. In fact, even senior citizens reap the benefits of having fun. Games for seniors improve cognitive skills, stimulates the brain to prevent dementia, and provides socialization for healthy well-being.  

Games for seniors can help keep the mind young. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The Aging Brain: Cognitive Skills During Senior Adulthood

The brain consists of two types of gray and white matter. White matter tissue is home to specialized cells called neurons and the nerve fibers known as axons. The axons are encapsulated with myelin—a fatty sheath that facilitates the exchange of chemical messages throughout the nervous system. Learning and various other brain functions are possible because white matter allows communication between different areas of the brain.

As an individual ages, overall brain volume decreases, especially the amount of white matter. This leaves the elderly prone to memory loss, as well as a decline in other cognitive skills like attention. These subtle changes in white matter are considered normal. However, a more pronounced loss or damage to white matter is associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Researchers (Liu, 2017) have found that an older brain is susceptible to lesions, cerebral bleeding, and disease.

The Benefits of Games For Seniors

The benefits of games for seniors are vast. With the sharp reduction in brain matter during the aging process, playing games strengthens neural connections in the brain. As the brain grows stronger, it can regenerate those damaged connections in the white matter. They are less likely to become affected by disease. The New England Journal of Medicine documents studies reflecting a decreased incidence of dementia in seniors who partake in board games and card games as leisure activities.

Games are also beneficial for mental health. Playing games that are enjoyable increases feelings of happiness. Additionally, games typically involve multiple players which foster the opportunity for socialization and forming friendships that boost mood.

Online Games For Seniors

Most seniors are not known for being computer savvy. Still, research proves that 38% of adults over the age of 50 play video games. Whether online through a laptop or desktop computer, a gaming console, or a smart phone application, virtual games are helpful for repetition of tasks focused on cognitive abilities.

  • Candy Crush—A match-three puzzle game with the goal of matching three or more pieces of candy of the same color by swapping candy pieces vertically or horizontally.
  • Words With Friends—The virtual version of Scrabble where players are given seven letter tiles that are each assigned a point value. Players must form words and strategically place them on the board to earn the most points.
  • Bejeweled—Similar to Candy Crush, players must swap gems to create vertical or horizontal chains of three or more gems of the same color.  
  • Tetris—Based on tetriminos, the aim of Tetris is to clear rows by horizontally arranging falling blocks of varying shapes and speeds without empty rows of space.
  • Elevate—A gaming app for games that improve vocabulary, grammar, and speaking and listening skills.  

Card games For Seniors

Card games are a classic! Cards are inexpensive, do not require extra tools or equipment, and they encourage socialization because they involve multiple people to play. For seniors, card games stimulate the brain by testing the player’s strategy and chance.

  • Uno—Players match card numbers, colors, or words until one card remains.
  • Phase 10—The object of Phase 10 is to be the first to complete all of the 10 phases using cards dealt at random.
  • Crazy Eights—Match cards to the card on top of the starter pile in suit or number until the winner discards all of their cards.
  • Go Fish—Try to get four suits of the same rank by requesting cards from other players.
  • Bridge—Bridge is played in partners or teams and the team who wins does so by making bids and tricks.
  • Rummy—Players rush to order all of their cards in the same rank or sequence.
  • Solitaire—In ascending order, organize cards by suit.
  • Poker—A betting game where players make bets on who has the better hand of cards that are of the highest value.  
  • SkipBo—Stack the cards in your hand in sequential order to use all of the cards in the stockpile.
  • Lowdown—By placing nine cards in rows of three, replace high scoring cards with low scaring cards to have the least number of points out of all players.

Number Games For Seniors

Paying bills, shopping, measuring ingredients while cooking—numbers are frequently applied to everyday tasks. Games that involve numbers refine math skills in ways more fun than calculating tedious equations.

  • Yahtzee—A dice game where players roll and decide which combinations of numbers to keep or which to roll again.
  • Farkle—Roll dice until the score equals 500.
  • Sudoku—A puzzle game with the goal of each column and row in the 9×9 grid contains all digits from 1 to 9.  
  • Count Backwards—Practice counting backward from various starting points, patterns, and sequences.
  • Color By Numbers—Coloring by numbers combines the ability to count with the art and creativity of coloring.  

Word Games For Seniors

Word games challenge vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and communication by testing logic and reasoning. The brain is fully engaged, as games involving words strengthen the connections in both the right and the left side of the brain.

  • Scrabble—Arrange tiles in a crossword-style on a grid to form words with the highest point score.
  • Scattergories—Roll a dice to choose a letter and then name as many objects as possible on a list using the same letter.
  • Boggle—16 letter cubes are contained in a domed grid. Shake the grid to mix up the letters. Players must form as many words as possible using connecting letters (i.e. adjacent letters).
  • Word Search—Hidden amongst a grid of miscellaneous letters, find specific words on a list. The words can be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or backward. Word search puzzles are featured in newspapers and gamebooks.
  • Taboo—Guess the word on the player’s card using hints listed on the card.
  • Bananagrams—Each player is given a set of letter tiles contained in a banana pouch. The first to build a crossword grid with all of their tiles wins.
  • Upwords—Upwords is similar to Scrabble, but the letter tiles can be stacked on top of each other.
  • Rhyming Ball—The starting player throws a ball to another player while saying a word. The player with the ball has to come up with a new word that rhymes before throwing the ball to the next player.

Board Games For Seniors

Board games are a popular form of entertainment for seniors. The majority of board games can be played sitting down, which is optimal for those with mobility concerns, and the rules can be modified to accommodate physical challenges. Board games are versatile, as the object of the games differ to target a variety of cognitive abilities. Including at least two players, studies report evidence of board games reducing the occurrence of depression in the elderly population.

  • Chess—A two player strategy game where each person takes turns moving pieces of contrasting colors across files and ranks.
  • Monopoly—Taking turns rolling dice, players move around the board while securing properties, developing them, and trading them with other players until a player declares bankruptcy.
  • Cranium—Players are assigned a piece that moves around the board. They battle to complete activities before the timer runs out. Activities include drawing, answering trivia questions, filling in the blank, or acting out an activity written on the card.
  • Pictionary—One player chooses a card from a deck and draws the object written on that card. Other players try to guess the word.  
  • Checkers— Using a checkered board, players move their pieces diagonally to jump over and collect all of the opponent’s pieces.
  • Sequence—The object of Sequence is for players to create columns, rows, and diagonals on the board with spaces based on all of the cards in a standard 52-card deck.
  • Trouble—Players roll the dice to be the first to move all four of their pieces around the board.
  • Sorry—Much like Trouble, players roll a dice to move each of their pawns to their home base.
  • Backgammon—A two-player game where each player moves their checkers between 24 triangles according to the number on the dice.

Physical Activity Games For Seniors

Exercise is an important part of maintaining physical and mental health. Being that seniors are prone to medical complications, physical activity is crucial to their health routine. Lifting weights, walking, or doing repeated reps of body weight exercises is tedious for some. Instead, physical activity games allow seniors to reach their allotment of physical exercise that incorporates their hobbies or interests. Research even shows “physically active older adults showed greater increases in white matter volume” (Colcombe, 2006).

Common games involving physical activity that are appropriate for seniors providing they receive medical clearance from their physician. These include activities such as golf, dance, badminton, tennis, crochet, frisbee, horseshoes, shuffleboard, whiffle ball, and swimming.

Craft Games For Seniors

Seniors like an outlet to express their creativity. While card games, board games, and virtual games are enjoyable, they are limited in artistry. Crafting triggers the brain to release dopamine, which creates feelings of happiness and initiates the process of building new neurons in the brain to fight the effects of aging. Physicians who are published in the American Journal of Public Health have introduced crafting to patients with dementia and have had memory improvements of up to 70 percent!

Basic crafts like painting, sewing, knitting, are great. Consider unique crafts like constructing and decorating a birdhouse, jewelry making, designing greeting cards for friends or other loved ones, or scrapbooking to preserve cherished memories.

Group games for seniors. Photo by Şahin Sezer Dinçer from Pexels

Group Games For Seniors

Many board and card games are multiple players, which encourages group or team cooperation. However, there are games that are played in much larger groups than the usual game of cards. This socialization is needed to keep their minds sharp through intellectual conversations with peers. Seniors with consistent, active social lives are generally less anxious, are not as likely to develop depression, and a have higher self-esteem than seniors who remain isolated.

  • Bingo—The purpose of Bingo is to have 5 connecting spaces on the board called. Bingo is the most common game played in group homes because it accommodates large groups and is inexpensive. It stimulates the senses (i.e. hearing, sight, touch).
  • Twister—The traditional Twister is not senior-friendly, as most are not physically able to contort their bodies. However, bean bag Twister is played by tossing bean bags on the mat. Each color on the board is allotted a point system, and the number of points given depends on what color the beanbag lands on.
  • Game Show Games—Recreating favorite game show games like “The Price Is Right,” “Family Feud,” and “Wheel of Fortune” engages large groups.

Memory Games For Seniors

Out of all of the cognitive skills, memory is the skill most effected by aging. Playing games that focus on memory tasks specifically reducing the extent of memory loss. Seniors with dementia especially benefit from games targeting memory.

  • Memory Tray—Miscellaneous items are put on a tray. After players look at the tray, it is covered up. Later, they must try to remember the items on the tray.
  • Memory Match—An interactive memory game for seniors where cards are placed face down on a surface and players flip over two cards at a time in attempts to find a match. Once the cards are matched, they are remain flipped over upright.  
  • Simon—An electronic memory game where players have to remember and repeat color sequences on a device.  
  • Grocery List—Using memory recall, players memorize a shopping list and are required to place every item in a hypothetical shopping cart. The first to fill the cart correctly wins!
  • Trivia—Trivia games test the knowledge on subjects such as science, history, facts about musicians, or television shows. These games train memory, as players have to retrieve the answer from their memory.
  • Finish the Phrase—Players are supposed to finish the sentence of phrases.

Resources

Colcombe, S. J., Erickson, K. I., Scalf, P. E., Kim, J. S., Prakash, R., McAuley, E., et al. (2006). Aerobic exercise training increases brain volume in aging humans. J. Gerontol. A Biol. Sci. Med. Sci. 61, 1166–1170. doi: 10.1093/gerona/61.11.1166

Liu, H., Yang, Y., Xia, Y., Zhu, W., Leak, R. K., Wei, Z., Wang, J., & Hu, X. (2017). Aging of cerebral white matter. Ageing research reviews34, 64–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arr.2016.11.006

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. American journal of public health100(2), 254–263. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497

5 Reasons to Hold A Post-Retirement Job: Life After Retirement

Most seniors do not consider working past retirement age because retirement is your time to relax and enjoy life at an easy-going pace. While the time may have come to end full-time work, you may want to reconsider cutting employment out of your life altogether.

There are a number of ways a post-retirement job can benefit seniors without infringing on their relaxation and family time. If you’ve thought about getting back into the workforce, are feeling bored and unstimulated in retirement, or are itching to pursue that dream career you’ve always longed for, a post-retirement job could be just what you’ve been missing.

Working after retirement

Working Keeps the Mind Sharp

One of the main reasons seniors develop mental health problems is a lack of mental exercise. A job through retirement guarantees regular mental exercise through problem-solving, learning new skills, and interacting with others. If you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s, you may want to seriously consider a part-time job for your retirement. Other cognitive stimulation programs offer fun brain games and activities to help you work your cognitive skills and keep your brain sharp! Think about finding an activity that you like and adding a brain training program to keep your brain sharp and your cognitive skills at top level.

A Job Helps Prevent Social Isolation

Social isolation is one of the most common problems faced by seniors in the West. Retirement spells the end of workplace socializing, and many seniors learn too late that work was their only form of social interaction.

If you don’t have an overly active social life, retirement may become a series of monotonous days with little to no interaction with other people, which can lead to depression. Social interaction is critical for human well-being, and a post-retirement job is the best way to ensure you as a retiree do not suffer from social isolation.

Extra Income is Never Bad

It is not uncommon for seniors to work part-time while receiving social security benefits. That additional income can mean over-the-top holiday celebrations, a much-needed cruise, or even a high-end retirement community for the end of your working days. It is never a bad idea to secure extra income.

You Can Finally Have Your Dream Job

Before retirement, your career choice was likely driven, at least in part, by finances. You needed the money to thrive and provide for your family. Now, with social security and retirement pensions kicking in, you might be able to job hunt without worrying about your income level.

Furthermore, you have a lifetime of invaluable experience for employers. Now is the perfect time to secure the job you always imagine.

Volunteering is Always an Option

Even if cashiering a few hours a week does not appeal to you, retirement is the perfect time to start volunteering. With a volunteering position, you can support a cause you care about while enjoying many of the benefits of a paying job.

The open schedule of a retiree is ideal for volunteering as is your life experience and passion for the cause. In fact, there is even a group devoted to seniors who want to spend their retirement doing some good in the world.

There are many reasons for seniors to continue working at least a little throughout their retirement. It does the mind, the body, and the world a lot of good. Whether you apply to your favorite local shop, gain a new license, or opt to volunteer your time, working during your golden years is the best way to enjoy retirement to the fullest.

 

Not Sure If You Should Take The Leap? Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

We may not look back on our foreign language classes at school with much fondness.However, after reading about the following benefits of learning foreign languages, we may all be searching for our Spanish or French class notes.

Learning a foreign language can be difficult. The older you are, the more challenging it can be. Nevertheless, learning a new language can have a range of cognitive, health and cultural benefits.

Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Beneficial for traveling, learning and communicating

Learning a foreign language means you can explore a whole new culture, country, or continent through the native tongue. Learning a foreign language also allows us to communicate with individuals who do not speak our mother tongue.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Stay young and stave off disease

Research has found that bilingualism can help counteract cognitive decline. In fact, it was noted that bilingual older adults had better memory than monolingual older adults. Furthermore, there has been links between bilingualism and Alzheimer’s, showing the correlation to speaking more than one language and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, Evy Woumans and colleagues have found that in older adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the rate of progression is slower in bilingual patients compared to monolingual patients.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Be more creative

A review into the cognitive correlates of bilingualism, by Olusola Adesope and colleagues found that bilingualism has been associated with enhanced creativity and abstract thinking. Essentially, being proficient in a foreign language can make you more creative and can help you think outside the box.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improved problem-solving skills

Bilinguals tend to have better problem-solving skills than monolinguals. In addition, bilinguals tend to perform better on tasks like the Stroop test, which requires an element of conflict management. Being fluent in a foreign language has been linked to enhanced inhibitory control ability. This means that bilinguals are better at ignoring information that interferes with their ability to complete a task. The message here seems to be that learning a foreign language can help us to solve problems faster and help us to ignore irrelevant information.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Better cognitive control

Researchers Viorica Marion and Anthony Shook tested bilinguals in experiments of task switching. Participants were required to switch between sorting objects based on colour and by shape. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals displayed high levels of cognitive control. They find it easier to switch between tasks compared to monolinguals. Essentially, learning a foreign language may improve our task switching ability. Researchers propose enhanced cognitive control is due to the ability to balance two languages. Bilingual language processing networks for both languages are active at the same time. As both languages are activated, the individual responds in the correct language by learning to inhibit one language over the other. By doing this, bilinguals improve their inhibitory control mechanism, to the point where when processing language, the process of inhibiting the language that isn’t needed at a particular time becomes second nature. Wondering how you can train your brain and cognitive skills? Try some fun brain games!

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Changes brain structure

Bilingualism has been found to increase neuroplasticity. Researcher Rosanna Olsen and colleagues investigated structural brain differences in monolinguals and bilinguals using fMRI. Scans revealed that bilinguals display increased activation in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC plays an important role in tasks which require control). This part of the brain is associated with attention and inhibition. The researchers found that the hippocampus and the left superior temporal gyrus are more malleable in bilinguals (The hippocampus is associated with memory and the superior temporal gyrus is associated with sound processing). Furthermore, these structures as well as the frontal lobe are thicker in bilingual individuals (The frontal lobes are associated with executive functions such as problem solving and executive control-need some exercises to improve executive functions?). Increased volumes of white matter have been noted in frontal and temporal lobes. According to researcher Christos Pilatsikas and colleagues, when learning a second language age doesn’t matter, as adults who have learnt a foreign language have shown increase white matter. Being proficient in a foreign language can improve connections of brain regions that control our memory, executive functioning, attention and inhibition processes.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improves attention and attention control

Studies have shown that on tasks of attention control, bilinguals tend to perform better than monolinguals. Also bilinguals tend to have a higher attention capacity. Bilinguals are better at filtering out unwanted information and find it easier to focus on more relevant information.

Improves ability to process information– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Being bilingual can benefit sensory and information processing. Jennifer Krizman and colleagues present participants with target sounds embedded in background noise. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals found it easier to filter out background noise. The researchers found bilingualism enhances sound processing and sustained attention. The study found that bilinguals process sound similarly to musicians. This means that one of the benefits of learning a foreign language is being able to improve the efficiency of the brain’s auditory system, and enhance our ability to distinguish between similar sounds.

Benefits of learning foreign languages

Enhances working memory– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Managing two languages puts increased pressure our working memory. To ease the pressure, bilinguals become more efficient at information processing. Combining this with their enhanced inhibitory control ability, a bilingual’s working memory capacity and efficiency us greater than monolinguals.

Learning multiple foreign languages

We have already established that being fluent in a foreign language can improve our information processing abilities and enhance our sustained attention. As a result of these enhanced processes, bilinguals find it easier to learn a third or even fourth foreign language.

Learning a foreign language can have numerous benefits on our cognitive functions. It improves executive functions, cognitive control, attention, and memory. In addition, neuroimaging studies have revealed that learning a foreign language in later life can actually grow the brain and improve the connections between different brain regions. What is even more interesting is that learning a foreign language can counteract cognitive decline and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the age at which we learn a foreign language, it is still beneficial for our brains to do so. So, although it may be a little more difficult, it is clearly never too late to reap the benefits of learning foreign languages! Encouraging young children to learn a foreign language may benefit them in later life, so schools should look at making learning a foreign language a compulsory part of the curriculum. Aside from the benefits to cognition and the brain, for all of us who have the travelling bug and want to explore new cultures, learning the lingo is obviously the best place to start!

Do you have any questions or comments? Leave me a note below! 🙂

References

Adesope, O. O., Lavin, T., Thompson, T., & Ungerleider, C. (2010). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Review of Educational Research80(2), 207-245.

Krizman, J., Marian, V., Shook, A., Skoe, E., & Kraus, N. (2012). Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(20), 7877-7881.

Mårtensson, J., Eriksson, J., Bodammer, N. C., Lindgren, M., Johansson, M., Nyberg, L., & Lövdén, M. (2012). Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning. NeuroImage63(1), 240-244.

Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012, September). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. In Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science (Vol. 2012). Dana Foundation.

Pliatsikas, C., Moschopoulou, E., & Saddy, J. D. (2015). The effects of bilingualism on the white matter structure of the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences112(5), 1334-1337.

Woumans, E., Santens, P., Sieben, A., Versijpt, J., Stevens, M., & Duyck, W. (2015). Bilingualism delays clinical manifestation of Alzheimer's disease.Bilingualism: Language and Cognition18(03), 568-574.

Costa, A., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2014). How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?. Nature Reviews Neuroscience15(5), 336-345.

Olsen, R. K., Pangelinan, M. M., Bogulski, C., Chakravarty, M. M., Luk, G., Grady, C. L., & Bialystok, E. (2015). The effect of lifelong bilingualism on regional grey and white matter volume. Brain research1612, 128-139.

Saidi, L. G., & Ansaldo, A. I. (2015). Can a Second Language Help You in More Ways Than One?. AIMS neurosci1, 52-57.

Hippocampus: the orchestra director in the deepest part of our brain

Hippocampus. Have you ever gone blank and forgotten what you were going to say? Our brain is full of important data and information that we have stored over the years. Sometimes we have so much information that we force our brain to get rid and ignore some data. The part of the brain in charge of such important functions as memory and learning is the hippocampus. Without this brain structure, we would lose the ability to remember and feel the emotions associated with memories. You want to know more? Keep reading!

Hippocampus

What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is named after the anatomist Giulio Cesare Aranzio who in the 16th century observed that this brain structure bears a great resemblance to a seahorse.

The word hippocampus comes from the Greek Hippos (horse) and Kampe (crooked). In his discovery, this part of the brain was related to the sense of smell and he advocated the explanation that the hippocampus’ main function was to process the olfactory stimuli.

This explanation was defended until in 1890 when Vladimir Béjterev demonstrated the actual function of the hippocampus in relation to memory and cognitive processes. It is one of the most important parts of the human brain because it is closely related to memory functioning and emotions. It is a small organ located within the temporal lobe (approximately behind each temple), which communicates with different areas of the cerebral cortex in what is known as the “hippocampus system.” It is a small organ with an elongated and curved shape. Inside our brain, we have two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere (left and right).

The hippocampus is known as the main structure in memory processing.

Where is the Hippocampus?

It is very well located, connected to different regions of the brain. It is located in the middle temporal lobe.

The hippocampus along with other brain structures such as the amygdala and hypothalamus form the limbic system and are responsible for managing the most primitive physiological responses. They belong to the most “ancient, deep and primitive” part of the brain, in a part of the brain known as “archicortex” (the oldest region of the human brain) that appeared millions of years ago in our ancestors to meet their most basic needs.

The blue part is the hippocampus

What does the Hippocampus do?

Among its main functions are the mental processes related to memory consolidation and the learning process. As well as, processes associated with the regulation and production of emotional states and spatial perception. How does the brain learn?

Some research has also linked it to behavioral inhibition, but this information is still in the research phase as it is fairly recent.

Hippocampus and Memory

The hippocampus is primarily related to emotional memory and declarative memory. It allows us to identify faces, to describe different things and to associate the positive or negative feelings that we feel with the memories of the lived events.

It intervenes in forming both episodic and autobiographical memories from the experiences we are living. The brain needs to “make room” to be able to store all the information over the years and for this, it transfers the temporal memories to other areas of the brain where memory storage takes place in the long term.

In this way, older memories take longer to disappear. If the hippocampus were damaged, we would lose the ability to learn and the ability to retain information in memory. In addition to allowing the information to pass into long-term memory, it links the contents of the memory with positive or negative emotions that correspond depending on whether the memories are associated with good or bad experiences.

There are many types of memory: semantic memory, visual memory, working memory, implicit memory, etc. In the case of the hippocampus, it intervenes specifically in declarative memory (it covers our personal experiences and the knowledge we have about the world), managing the contents that can be expressed verbally. The different types of memory are not governed solely by the hippocampus but are formed by other brain regions. It does not take care of all the processes related to memory loss but it covers a good part of them.

Hippocampus and Learning

It allows learning and retention of information since it is one of the few areas of the brain that have neurogenesis throughout life.

That is, it has the ability to generate new neurons and new connections between neurons throughout the life cycle. Learning is acquired gradually after many efforts and this is directly related to it. For new information to be consolidated in our brains, it is vitally important that new connections are formed between neurons. That is why the hippocampus has a fundamental role in learning.

Curiosity: Is it true that the hippocampus of London taxi drivers is bigger or more developed? Why? London taxi drivers must pass a hard memory test where they must memorize a myriad of streets and places to get the license. In the year 2000, Maguire studied London taxi drivers and observed that the posterior hippocampus was greater. He also noted that the size was directly proportional to the time the taxi drivers were working. This is because of the effect of training, learning and experience changes and shapes the brain.

Spatial perception and its relationship with the hippocampus

Another important function in which the hippocampus stands out is the spatial orientation, where it plays a very important role.

Spatial perception helps us to keep our mind and body in a three-dimensional space. It allows us to move and helps us interact with the world around us.

There have been different studies with mice where it is stated that it is an area of vital importance for orientation capacity and spatial memory.

Thanks to its correct functioning, we are capable of performing acts such as guiding us through cities we do not know, etc. However, the data concerning people are much more limited and more research is needed.

What happens when the hippocampus is disturbed?

An injury to the hippocampus can mean problems generating new memories. An brain injury can cause anterograde amnesia, affecting specific memories but leaving intact learning skills or abilities.

Lesions can cause anterograde or retrograde amnesia. Non-declarative memory would remain intact and uninjured. For example, a person with a hippocampal injury may learn to ride a bicycle after the injury, but he would not remember ever seeing a bicycle. That is, a person with the damaged hippocampus can continue to learn skills but not remember the process.

Anterograde amnesia is memory loss that affects events occurring after the injury. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, affects the forgetfulness generated before the injury.

At this point, you will wonder why the hippocampus is damaged when there are cases of amnesia. It is simple, this part of the brain acts as a gateway to brain patterns that sporadically retain events until they pass to the frontal lobe. One could say that the hippocampus is key to memory consolidation, transforming short-term memory into long-term memory. If this access door is damaged and you can’t save the information, it won’t be possible to produce longer-term memories. In addition to losing the ability to remember, when injuries or damage to the hippocampus occurs, you may lose the ability to feel the emotions associated with such memories, since you would not be able to relate the memories to the emotions that evoke it.

Why can the Hippocampus be damaged?

Most of the alterations that may occur in the hippocampus are produced as a result of aging and neurodegenerative diseases, stress, stroke, epilepsy, aneurysms, encephalitis, schizophrenia.

Aging and dementias

In aging in general and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease in particular, the hippocampus is one of the areas that has previously been damaged, impairing the ability to form new memories or the ability to recall more or less recent autobiographical information. Memory problems, in this case, are associated with the death of hippocampal neurons.

Most of us know of someone who has suffered or suffers from some kind of dementia and has experienced memory loss. It is curious how the memories that remain are childhood memories or the oldest memories. You may wonder why this happens if the hippocampus is supposed to be damaged.

Well, although it is severely damaged (whether by dementia or any other type of illness), the most common memories are the oldest and they are also the most relevant to the life of the person. This is because over time these memories have been “becoming independent” of the hippocampus to be part of other structures related to long-term memory.

Hippocampus and stress

This region of the brain is very vulnerable to periods of stress because it inhibits and atrophies the neurons of this structure.

Have you noticed that when we are very stressed and we have a billion things to do sometimes we feel forgetful?

Stress and specifically cortisol (a type of hormone that is released in response to stressful moments) damage our brain structures sometimes causing neuronal death. That is why it is fundamental that we learn to remain calm and manage our emotions to get our hippocampus to remain strong and continue to exercise their functions optimally.

To know more watch the following video.

If you like this super interesting subject about memory, I recommend you watch the movie “Memento”. I’ll leave the trailer here so you can see what it’s about.

If you liked this post, leave your comment below. I will be happy to read it and answer your questions :).

This article is originally in Spanish written by Mairena Vázquez, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Solving the Brain Fitness Puzzle Is the Key to Self-Empowered Aging | SharpBrains

Hold the wheel and drive

Solving the Brain Fitness Puzzle Is the Key to Self-Empowered Aging | SharpBrains

Brain fitness in the elderly

Brain Fitness and the Elderly

In today’s society, brain fitness is becoming more and more popular. Brain games are important for everyone of all ages, especially for senior citizens. Why? As we age, our brains tend to deteriorate. Memory loss, slower reaction time and less focus are some of the common things that happen when we get older. With all of this said, brain games are showing up in many retirement communities where brain fitness centers are built, so the elderly can utilize them.

These fitness centers usually have many computers, specific expensive dedicated brain training devices and a training instructor, who consider brain exercises very important. There are simpler and cheaper solution around like the CogniFit personalized brain fitness program which works on a regular Windows or Mac computer using the Internet browser. The International Business Time, CNN Health and NBC list the CogniFit program in the top 2 best app to train your brain. In addition, the CogniFit program is self-explanatory so you do not require an instructor. What else? The CogniFit personalized brain fitness program is one of the few programs that is scientifically validated.

Doing brain exercises can have many benefits. In fact, there are so many benefits; I am going to list only a fraction of them. Some include: improved memory, quicker thinking, faster reaction time, enhanced listening, self-confidence, improved self-image, better driving, sharper vision and better overall well being. Of course, I only scratched the service of the countless things brain exercises can do for you.

Mental exercises not only provide mental stimulation, they provide social stimulation as well. What does social interaction have to do with the brain?  Social interaction involves many cognitive abilities such as concentration, memory and attention. The more we interact the more we use our cognitive abilities. The more we use our cognitive abilities, the stronger the brain gets. Lastly, please do not forget about physical fitness!  Along with mental stimulation and social stimulation, physical stimulation is also crucial to your health and well-being! Makes sure you are physically active at least a few times a week. In addition, you should make an effort to eat healthy. Some of the healthiest brain foods include: fish, tomatoes, blueberries, nuts, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, sage and many whole-grain foods. Mental stimulation, social stimulation and physical stimulation are the trifecta of a healthy lifestyle!

The brain fitness industry has exploded over the last decade. In 2005, the industry accumulated $200 million in revenue, and in 2012, the industry surpassed $1 billion in revenue. Not only that, experts are predicting that by 2020, the brain fitness industry will be worth six billion dollars. Remember, the physical fitness industry boom? Some people are comparing today’s brain fitness industry to the physical fitness boom decades earlier. Perhaps we will have brain trainers in the future. Hey, the idea of physical fitness trainers was taboo only decades ago. Who knows what the future will bring.

A few brain training sessions may help seniors stay sharp for a decade

A few brain training sessions may help seniors stay sharp for a decade.

Older adults who trained with brief courses of brain exercises showed improvements in reasoning ability and speed-of-processing when compared with untrained controls participants as long as 10 years after the course ended. These gains were even greater for those who got additional “booster” sessions over the next three years. Older adults who received brief cognitive training also reported that they had less difficulty in performing important everyday tasks.

The findings, recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, offer welcome news in the search for ways to fight cognitive decline prevalence in older adults as it can seriously affect quality of life. Keeping the mind sharp is a great concern as 76 million baby boomers in the United States advance into old age.

At the start of the study, all 2,832 seniors were cognitively normal and had an average age of 73.6 years.

They were divided into four groups. One group received no brain training, while the others were each trained in a specific mental ability during 10 sessions over five to six weeks:

  • The memory group learned strategies for retaining word lists, sequences of items and details from stories.
  • The reasoning group learned how to solve problems that follow patterns, such as filling in blanks from series of numbers or letters.
  • The speed-of-processing group used a computer program that trained them to identify and locate visual information quickly, including looking up phone numbers and reacting to changes in traffic while driving.

After five years, researchers found those with the training performed better than their untrained participants in three cognitive areas: processing speed, memory and reasoning ability.

Memory performance improved up to five years following the intervention, but there was no longer a significant difference between trained participants and controls at 10 years. Notably, gains in reasoning and speed-of-processing remained 10 years after the training in trained participants.

Trained participants also reported that they had an easier time with daily activities such as managing their medications, cooking meals or handling their finances than untrained participants. However standard tests of these activities showed no differences between the groups.

At the end of the trial, all groups showed declines compared with their initial baseline tests in memory, reasoning and processing speed, but those who received training in reasoning and processing speed experienced less decline.

The results support the idea that people can receive brain training that will keep them sharp as they age, study co-author said.

So keep your brain sharp and train now using CogniFit, a scientifically validated brain fitness training program.

Aging in brain found to hurt sleep needed for memory

Aging in brain found to hurt sleep needed for memory.

Scientists have known for decades that the ability to remember newly learned information declines with age, but it was not clear why. A new study may provide another interesting insight.

The study suggests that structural brain changes occurring naturally over time interfere with sleep quality, which in turn blunts the ability to store memories for the long term.

Previous research had found that the prefrontal cortex, the brain region behind the forehead, tends to lose volume with age, and that part of this region helps sustain quality sleep, which is critical to consolidating new memories.

Researchers zeros in on cognitive difficulties associated with menopause

Researchers zeros in on cognitive difficulties associated with menopause.

The memory problems that many women experience in their 40s and 50s as they approach and go through menopause are both real and appear to be most acute during the early period of post menopause. That is the conclusion of a study which appears in the journal Menopause.

The researchers found that women in the early stage of post menopause performed worse on measures of verbal learning, verbal memory and fine motor skill than women in the late reproductive and late transition stages. The researchers also found that self-reported symptoms such as sleep difficulties, depression, and anxiety did not predict memory problems. Nor could these problems be associated with specific changes in hormone levels found in the blood.

Brain changes may make older people more prone to scams

Brain changes may make older people more prone to scams.

When faces in the photos were trustworthy or neutral, the older adults’ responses were very similar to those of younger adults. But when viewing faces rated as untrustworthy, the older adults were less likely to pick up on cues.

On the younger study subjects, the brain scans showed significant activity in a portion of the brain called the anterior insula when they looked at pictures of untrustworthy types. But in the older volunteers, there was very little brain activity in this brain part.