The following are eight tips to help keep your brain active and sharp.
1. Go on a guided tour of a museum or another site of interest. Pay very careful attention to what the tour guide says. When you get home, try to reconstruct the tour by writing an outline that includes everything you remember.
Research into brain plasticity (the ability of the brain to change at any age) indicates that memory activities that engage all levels of the brain in operation, receiving, remembering and thinking-help to improve the function, and hinder the rate of decline, of the brain.
2. Choose a song with lyrics that you enjoy but don't have memorized. As you listen to the song, try to hear each word so that you can write the lyrics down. Listen to the song as many times as necessary! Then learn to sing along with the song. Once you've mastered one song, move on to another!
Developing better habits of careful listening will help you in your understanding, thinking and remembering. Reconstructing the song requires close attentional focus and an active memory. When you focus, you release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a brain chemical that enables plasticity and vivifies memory.
3. Sit in a place outside your house, such as on a park bench or in a café. Stare straight ahead and don't move your eyes. Concentrate on everything you can see without moving your eyes, including your peripheral vision. When you have finished, write a list of everything you saw. Then try again and see if you can add to your list!
Scientists have show that the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is crucial to focus and memory, falls off with memory loss and is almost absent in Alzheimer's patients. This activity should help you reinvigorate the controlled release of acetylcholine in your brain through a useful visual memory task.
4. Sharpen your brain's neural pathways by listening to a classical composition, and dissecting it into the instruments you hear. For example, where do the cellos come in and out?
Making fine distinctions in sound pitch and timbre is useful for improving speech understanding and voice recognition. The different "voices" of the instruments in an orchestra are akin to the different voices of your friends and family.
5. Set your television volume down a little from where you normally have it set. See if by concentrating you can follow just as successfully as when the volume was higher. As soon as that setting gets easy, turn it down another notch!
Think of this: You can't get rid of radio static by turning up the volume. Many people raise the volume because their listening has become "detuned" or a little fuzzy. Now that you've completed a listening training program, its time to turn down the sound. Matching TV volume to a conversational level can help you catch every word when talking with others.
6. Reacquaint yourself with the ball. Practice throwing and catching a ball up in the air. You might even want to take up juggling. Doing so can hone your brain's visual, tactile and hand-eye coordination responses.
Scientists have recorded improvements in the functional brains of people who have mastered these kinds of sensory-guided movement skills. Practicing skills that make good, fast use of sensations from listening, vision and touch have widespread positive impacts for an older brain.
7. Take up crocheting and knitting ( for the ladies?). These are great activities for building your brain's fine motor control and processing. But don't be satisfied with being a slow, careful artist-constantly push yourself to become faster and better.
This is another activity that requires close attention for fast, errorless performance. It is good exercise for the brain machinery that controls and sustains attention and alertness. It can also be highly rewarding to see your first sweater take shape, which can increase the flow of brain chemicals that enable plasticity.
8. Find an activity you can do by yourself-such as completing a crossword puzzle or playing solitaire-and take it to the next level. See if by concentrating, and giving more effort to the activity, you can succeed better or more quickly.
There is limited value in working at a game or exercise that you can play without paying close attention. It is important to always strive to "take it up a notch" to a higher and more demanding level, where you re-engage the brain's learning machinery.