Outsmarting Dementia: 5 Techniques for Giving Your Brain a Boost

No matter your age, it’s never too early to begin the fight against dementia. The good news is that it’s easier than you might think. The better news is that there are all kinds of ways to do it, no matter what your interests are! Here are just a few ways you can make the most of your mental workout:

If you’re active (or want to be), combine physical and mental workouts.

Physical exercise is a vital component to total health, and it can even have positive effects on your mental wellness. If you’re already an active person or want to start getting more exercise, combine your efforts! Try going for a walk in the park and issuing yourself mini challenges: how many trees have moss — now what’s the percentage? The ratio of moss to barren trees? If you’re more on the creative side, find objects in nature and find the most accurate color: is that bird in the tree periwinkle, or is it more of a deep sapphire? Maybe it reminds you of the color of the ocean, or of a favorite piece of clothing from long ago. Try thoughtful and engaging challenges.

If you’re bored, play a game.

Some people enjoy having an activity to do every afternoon, evening, or in whatever spare time they find throughout the day. There are lots of card games you can play that can boost memory, require strategic thinking, and many require basic addition and math skills. You can play a game of memory or solitaire on your own or invite some friends over for a group game. Board games are another great option if you have plenty of people to play, but cards tend to be an easier, more portable option.

If you’re a problem-solver, try a puzzle.

Classic jigsaws are a fun, quiet way to work your brain, and like cards they can be done on your own or with loved ones. If dexterity is a problem, there are easier versions you can play online or on a tablet. If sudoku is more of your style, you can find endless options online, and often in local and national newspapers. Try to devote a little time each day, even if it’s just 15 minutes on the puzzle every afternoon.

If you’re on the curious side, learn something new.

For many people, learning is the greatest experience of them all. You probably have a giant list of things you’ve been meaning to research, skills you’ve wanted to acquire, and interests you’ve wanted to pursue. So try one! Maybe you want to learn another language, or take an art class down the street. Even taking a class at a local college could be a great way to get a fresh lesson, and local community centers might offer free or low-cost options.

If you’re adventurous, try a completely foreign experience.

Maybe you’ve always been a thrill-seeker, or after a lifetime of being cautious you’re ready to break out of your comfort zone. Research has shown that you can get maximum mental benefits if you become open to new experiences. Try going to an art show of someone you’re unfamiliar with or sampling a new cuisine. If there’s a cultural fair, grab a friend and go explore as much as you can. If you have the means, traveling is another great way to expand your cognitive horizons and boost your mental health.

Any combination of these techniques can be beneficial, so start with what will be easiest to work into your schedule. From there, you can make adjustments on what activities you enjoy, trips you want to take, or even nightly activity nights you want to hold. Keep challenging yourself, and your brain will thank you for it!

About George Mears

George Mears is a brain fitness expert whose major area of interest is how brain exercises like games, puzzles, and memory activities help people to minimize the brain health deterioration that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Brainwellness.info

Chronic Pain: Is There Hope?

By Jerry Henderson on October 7, 2015.

It is clear that to me that there is a chronic pain epidemic in this country. My belief was confirmed by some disturbing results from a cross sectional survey of over 27,000 people on the prevalence of pain. The study was conducted by Johanne and associates in 2012[i] and it showed:

  • Approximately 30% of the respondents had long lasting chronic pain or recurrent pain, and:
    • Most had either lower back pain (8%) or pain from other osteoarthritic conditions (4%).
    • Half had daily pain.
    • About 1/3 of those reported their pain as severe (at least 7 on a 0/10 verbal pain rating scale).
  • Prevalence increased with age, lower socioeconomic status, and unemployment.

An Institute of Medicine report estimates that 116 million Americans suffer from chronic pain and that the combined medical and financial cost due to lost productivity is $635 million per year,[ii] which is more than the annual costs of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Describing Chronic Pain

There are many definitions of chronic pain, but one of the most widely accepted is any pain lasting longer than 12 weeks. Experiencing pain for longer than 12 weeks is simply not normal. In contrast, acute pain, that is, pain lasting for a shorter period of time, is our internal warning system about serious tissue damage.

Think about the difference between the qualities of the pain you experience from a minor skin cut compared to the pain you have probably experienced at some time in your life from your lower back.

The pain from a skin cut feels sharp. You can tell, without looking where the cut is on your skin, and you can estimate whether or not the cut is serious. The lower back pain may initially feel like a sharp, stabbing pain, but after a few days it often develops into a deep aching. You don’t have a good idea of how badly you are hurt, and you have a hard time describing where it hurts. In fact, the location of the pain may change over time.

Rear view of shirtless man with hand on hip over white background

As the skin cut heals, the pain resolves quickly. As the low back heals, the pain may resolve quickly, but (for reasons that are not well understood) it may not. That deep, aching pain may just continue for weeks, and it may cause complex changes in your brain chemistry that make it even worse. Over time, this type of pain builds on itself to the point that in the worst cases it becomes completely disabling and is often associated with clinical depression.

I often told my patients that pain of this sort is a liar. It may provide important clues about the source of the problem, but that’s all–just some clues. Other than clues, we shouldn’t rely too much on this type of pain to tell us much of anything.

“If I Had a Hammer….”

The old saying, “If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” holds true for chronic pain treatment. The physician tool chest (which includes narcotic medications, injections, surgery, and imaging studies) seems to be woefully inadequate at treating this type of pain.

Use of narcotic medications works great for acute pain, but they are dangerously addicting and have other perverse side effects like making clinical depression associated with chronic pain even worse in some cases. In my experience, the term “Pain Clinics” is often code for drug rehabilitation for patients who have been addicted to narcotic pain medications for their chronic pain.

The dismal record of surgery, particularly spinal fusion, for low back pain is well documented. The New York Times reported on a recent study from the Journal of the American Medical Association indicating that injections for non-specific lower back pain are ineffective, even though they are done routinely[iii].

What is the Answer?

Chronic pain is pervasive, disabling, and costly. It causes untold suffering. It can rob patients of their livelihoods. Typical care for chronic pain isn’t very effective. I believe that physical therapy is the best treatment available.

I find this excerpt from an article published by the National Institutes of Health very telling:[iv]

Self-management of chronic pain holds great promise as a treatment approach.  In self-management programs, the individual patient becomes an active participant in his or her pain treatment—engaging in problem-solving, pacing, decision-making, and taking actions to manage their pain. Although self-management programs can differ, they have some common features. Their approach is that the person living with pain needs help learning to think, feel, and do better, despite the persistence of pain. Improving communication with the healthcare provider is part of that empowerment.

Through NIH-supported research, starting successful self-management programs has reduced many barriers to effective pain management, regardless of the underlying conditions. Individuals who participate in these programs have significantly increased their ability to cope with pain. They improve their ability to be active, healthy, and involved members of their communities. In fact, new research suggests that the best self-management programs teach people different ways of thinking about and responding to pain, making their actions to relieve it more effective.

Read that excerpt carefully. Doesn’t that sound like physical therapy?

Physical therapists need to take the lead on being the providers of choice for these types of problems. No one can do it better.

[i] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20797916

[ii] http://www.amednews.com/article/20110708/profession/307089996/8/

[iii] http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/looking-for-alternatives-for-back-pain-relief/

[iv] https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html


JerryHenderson_HeadshotAbout Jerry Henderson

Jerry Henderson has been a physical therapist for over 25 years and is passionate about providing his PT colleagues with proven processes and state of the art systems to enable them to excel in delivering excellent patient care. He currently serves as VP for Clinical Community at Clinicient, Inc. http://www.clinicient.com/