Weiss: Report - Cognitive-Simulating Activities Good for Your Brain’s Health
Monday, August 07, 2017
Herb Weiss, GoLocalProv Guest MINDSETTER™
Don’t expect playing “brain games” to have the long-term brain health benefits oftentimes reported in newspapers. According to a statement released last month by the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), the scientific evidence supporting the benefits of “brain games” is at best “weak to non-existent.” But, the researchers say you can engage in many stimulating activities to help sharpen your brain as you age.
GCBH’s latest statement on “Cognitive Stimulating Activities” follows earlier reports issued by this independent organization created by AARP, advocating on behalf of its 38 million members with the support of Age UK, one the United Kingdom largest charities advocating for seniors. Previous areas included: “The Brain Body Connection;” The Brain Sleep Connection;” and “The Brain and Social Connectedness.”
The 25-page GCBH report, released on July 25, says that while many find “brain games” to be fun and engaging activities, oftentimes the claims made by companies touting the game’s cognitive benefits are exaggerated. The researchers noted that there are many ways to support and maintain your memory, reasoning skills, and ability to focus, such as engaging in formal or informal educational activities, learning a new language, engaging in work or leisure activities that are mentally challenging, and connecting socially with others.
Keeping Mentally Sharp
The report debunks “brain health” myths, too. Contrary to the many stories told about the brain as we age, the GCBH finds that a person can learn new things, no matter their age. Getting dementia is not an inevitable consequence of growing older. Older persons can learn a second language. And, people should not expect to forget things as they age.
“The GCBH recommends people incorporate cognitively stimulating activities into their lifestyles to help maintain their brain health as they age,” said Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., GCBH Chair, and Professor of Neurology and Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “The sooner you start the better, because what you do now may make you less susceptible to disease-related brain changes later in life.”
“We know that the desire to stay mentally sharp is the number one concern for older adults,” said Sarah Lock, AARP Senior Vice President for Policy, and GCBH Executive Director. “Seeking out brain-stimulating activities is a powerful way for a person to positively influence their brain health as they age.”
GCBH pulled 13 independent health care professionals and experts together, who work in the area of brain health-related to cognitive functioning, to examine “Cognitively Stimulating Activities.” This group crafted the report’s consensus statement and recommendations after a close examination of well-designed randomized scientific studies published in peer review journals and studies replicated by other scientists.
Taking Control of Your Brain Health
The report concluded that people have control and influence over their brain changes throughout their lifespan. People can maintain their memory, cognitive thinking, attention and reasoning skills as they age by doing brain-stimulating activities. There is sufficient evidence that brain-stimulating activities are beneficial to staying mentally sharp over your lifespan
The researchers found through their literature review that training on a specific cognitive ability such as memory may improve that specific ability, but scientific evidence suggests you need to continue to apply that training to maintain or improve the ability over time.
The researchers also found that there is insufficient evidence that getting better at “brain games” will improve a person’s overall functioning in everyday life. Maintaining or improving your brain health is tied to the activity being “novel, highly engaging, mentally changing and enjoyable.”
The GCBH report suggested that just by learning a new skill, practicing tai-chi, learning photography, even investigating their family history, you can stimulate their brain and challenge the way they think, improving “brain health.” Also, social engagement and having a purpose in life, like “volunteering as a companion and mentoring others in your community,” can be mentally stimulating and improve your “brain health.”
But, the researchers say don’t forget physical activity, such as “dancing and tennis.” because the mental engagement and physical exercise can mentally benefit you, too.
The GCBH, founded in 2015, is an independent international group of scientists, health professionals, scholars and policy experts working on brain health issues. Convened by AARP with support from Age UK, the goal of the GCBH is to review the current scientific evidence and provide recommendations for people so that they can maintain and improve their brain health.
The full GCBH recommendations can be found here.
Yes, routinely challenging your brain can lead to improved “brain health. As the old adage says, “Use it or lose it.”
Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, click here.
"Rhode Island is making strong progress to provide our people with the education and job training they need to be successful and to expand access to affordable, quality health care to virtually everyone in our state.
President Trump's budget betrays Rhode Islanders by giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans while drastically reducing federal funding for vital programs that create jobs, raise wages, and protect low-income Americans.
Even as we analyze President Trump's budget in the coming days to determine its specific impacts on Rhode Island, I appreciate the members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation for their leadership and advocacy, and I join them in calling on their colleagues in Washington, D.C. to stop the Trump administration from making massive cuts to health care, public schools, affordable housing, and other programs that Rhode Islanders rely upon."
“In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the President’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country.
This proposal slashes funding for education, food assistance and health care for low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities. It makes cuts to worker training, environmental protection, and investments in medical research and advanced manufacturing. These are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders.
Congress must reject this cynical and misguided budget. Instead, we should work together in a bipartisan manner, as we did on the recently passed 2017 funding bill, to find a balanced approach to funding priorities that will support families, promote economic growth and provide for our national security.”
“If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing honest, hardworking Rhode Islanders. This is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class. It makes life harder for anyone who’s trying to punch a ticket to the middle class.”
Donald Trump has already proposed a huge tax cut for billionaires. But the budget he released today says everyone else is on their own. This budget eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation. It zeroes out funding for workforce training and good-paying manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. And it makes it even harder for young people to succeed by cutting teacher training, eliminating afterschool funding, and making it harder to pay off student loans.”
This budget does nothing to address Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure. It eliminates the TIGER grant program, which is critical to supporting local infrastructure projects like the new commuter rail station in Pawtucket. And it cuts funding for public transit by $928 million.”
And most worrisome of all, this budget makes our towns and cities less safe. It actually cuts funding for firefighters. It cuts billions from the EPA and other resources to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. And it slashes $978 million from the Army Corps of Engineers – meaning Rhode Island will be less prepared for hurricanes and have fewer resources to protect the quality of our waterways.”
Plain and simple, this is not a budget that any Member of Congress should be comfortable supporting. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first.”
“This budget is reckless, plain and simple. The President proposes massive cuts to Medicaid, breaking yet another campaign promise. He seeks to decimate the federal government’s central command in the battle against the opioid crisis affecting communities from Burrillville to Westerly. He pursues tens of billions of dollars in cuts to student loans and loan forgiveness programs.
His plan would slash funding for research into life-saving cures; lay waste to endowments that support Rhode Island’s world-class cultural institutions; hamstring the EPA so big polluters can poison our air and water; and weaken NOAA, sapping critical resources for coastal economies like Rhode Island’s. The list goes on.
These senseless, irresponsible choices serve one purpose: to pave the way for tax cuts for the very wealthiest. The good news is that this extremist proposal will go nowhere in the Senate. I look forward to moving past this political stunt of a budget and working on one the American people will support.”
“President Trump’s budget is bad news for Rhode Island because it weakens our economy and places new burdens on families, businesses, and communities across the country.
The Trump budget takes a less is more approach: less investment in education, health care, transportation and safety for the general public and more pollution, outsourcing jobs overseas, and tax breaks for the wealthy and well-connected.
This irresponsible budget would be a real setback for middle-class families and seniors in particular. The $800 billion in Medicaid cuts could cause over 10 million low-income Americans to lose their health coverage. If this budget were enacted, more elderly Americans could be forced to go from assisted living to living on the streets. That is immoral and ill-advised.
The Trump cuts also threaten federal funding for public education, medical research, job training and economic development. These cuts are counterproductive and won’t achieve real cost-savings. In fact, they would impede economic growth.
Families with limited incomes who are trying to make ends meet get hit hardest by the Trump budget. It takes food, health care, and retirement security away from children, seniors, and people with disabilities while adding funds for an ineffective border wall and tax cuts for millionaires. It eliminates the LIHEAP energy assistance program, Community Development Block Grants, and many other critical, cost-effective programs that have a positive impact on Rhode Island.
While our military deserves to be well-funded, cutting diplomacy and foreign aid won’t help prevent war. These are the wrong priorities for America and don’t reflect our core values.
I will work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to fight these disastrous cuts and enact a more balanced, fiscally responsible budget that focuses on job creation and strengthening the middle-class.”