OCTOBER 2015 ;e Costco Connection 47
AS WE AGE, we start to have more of those senior
moments. The question on everyone’s mind is: “How
much of this is normal?”
A great deal of our forgetful-
ness is normal, according to
Costco member and psychologist
Henry David Abraham, of Lexington,
Massachusetts. He notes, “As we age, we tend
to have difficulties finding words, because our
retrieval mechanism has slowed down.”
Nevertheless, there are some steps we can take
to help stave off cognitive decline.
Cognitive skills are just like our muscles: Use
them or lose them. The good news is that they can
also be strengthened. “The brain is capable of adapting and changing throughout life,” says Costco
member Tanya Mitchell, vice president of research
and development for LearningRx (
Here are eight ways that people of any age can
stimulate their brain, according to Mitchell.
Do a jigsaw puzzle. The brain skills needed to
assemble puzzles include visual processing, logic
Play an instrument. Learning to play an instrument can help you strengthen your cognitive skills,
such as language learning, spatial reasoning and
Complete a Sudoku or crossword. Some of the
best games to build cognitive skills are also some of
the oldest. Buy a magazine of games, grab the
Sunday paper or print games you find online.
Play a board game. Check out some old favorites, like Clue, which reinforces logic and deductive
reasoning; Battleship and chess, for planning and
strategy; and Monopoly, which builds strategy and
Time yourself. Games or activities with the
added pressure of a time limit can help strengthen
processing speed. You can also time yourself reading, doing math computations (like balancing your
checkbook) or speed-stacking cups.
Up the friendship factor. Studies consistently
show that social butterflies are less likely to develop
Alzheimer’s than those who are solitary. Strong
social networks can also minimize the effects of
cognitive decline on thinking and memory.
Write it down. The act of writing accesses the
left brain, which is analytical and rational, leaving
the right brain free to create and feel. It has been
associated with drops in depression and anxiety,
and increases in positive mood, social engagement
and the quality of close relationships.
Mix it up. Using your non-dominant hand has
been shown to strengthen neural connections in
your brain. Try eating, using the computer mouse
or brushing your teeth with your left hand if you’re
Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer covering health,
business and family.
USE YOUR HEAD! How often do you say that to
your teens? Turns out that teens really are working
with less brainpower, because the frontal cortex, the
area of the brain that controls reasoning and judgment, is still developing well into adulthood.
That’s why the adolescent years are a key time
for brain development.
Real face time
Study after study has linked eating together as a
family to a host of benefits, including better grades,
an increased ability to withstand peer pressure and
better mental health. It also can help build a better
brain. “Relationships have the most potential for
building robust wiring in the brain,” says Costco
member Doreen Dodgen-Magee, a psychologist
from Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Feeling short on conversation? Try a good old-fashioned board game. The Words with Friends app
might be building teens’ vocabulary, but a game like
Scrabble or Bananagrams, or even playing cards, has
the added power of the face-to-face interaction that
boosts the brain.
Engage the senses
When Dodgen-Magee’s teens bring their
friends home, they’re greeted with tubs of Legos,
bins of sand, objects to juggle and walls designed to
write on. Though they sound like activities better
suited to a younger crowd, she’s found they provide
something fun and tactile for the teens to do
while they chat, rather than monkey with the
“To get teens to pay attention, you have to
spin the activity so it’s as enticing as the screen,
because our brain will always default to the
easiest and most enjoyable thing,” she says.
“Any exercise will improve the blood flow,
which will have a positive effect on brain activity
and brain health,” says Costco member Dr. Vernon
Bonus points go to any activity that entails
crossing the midline of the body—think: bike
riding, pingpong or playing the drums—as this
integrates the left and right hemispheres as well
as the upper and lower regions of the brain.
The more complexity involved, the more all
regions of the brain are firing.
“Our bodies come with message indicators that are ready to trigger learning in the
brain, and an overreliance on technology is
compromising it,” says Dodgen-Magee.
“Those areas that aren’t being used are
being pruned off, but helping [teens]
find alternate activities will help the
brain grow.” C
y and Pain