Thursday, March 28, 2013

Keeping the Brain Limber

I finally got a chance to watch Dr. Neal Barnard's new PBS special, Protect Your Memory. A preview:

If you missed any of the showings on your local PBS stations, Amazon is now selling the DVD of the broadcast. This lecture is an off-shoot of his new book, Power Foods for the Brain which I purchased the day of release but it's still sitting in the ever-growing pile of health books to read.

In the video, he stated that there are three very important things we should be doing to ensure the health of our brain, and thus protecting our memories:

1) Skip bad fats
2) Knock out free radicals
3) Exercise your brain
To exercise your brain, he includes both physical, aerobic exercise, especially regular walking for 30 to 40 minutes three times a week, as well as exercises for your brain itself, such as learning new things, doing word and number puzzles like anagrams and Sudoku, even learning a language and being bilingual.

Well, I always hated anagrams and always get those questions wrong in Jeopardy, and Sudoku - ANY puzzle that involves numbers - just makes my head hurt. Learning languages? Well, in high school, the nun that taught us Spanish used the Castillian pronunciation of all the words so nothing we learned were we able to transfer to real-life usage. And the nun who taught us freshman Latin? She terrorized us all. She followed me into adulthood when, as an RN and working in a nursing home I was the primary caregiver of her mother, and she terrorized everyone in the Catholic Church-run nursing home just as she did high school girls. But I did love the language, and even won a few awards in competitions back in the 1960's. Knowing Latin really helped me in nursing school and when working with the doctors and even pharmacists. Eventually most of my Latin knowledge slipped away when I stopped working as a nurse and became a stay-at-home mom.

Fast forward a few years and I'm now home-schooling a sixth grader. We used a canned curriculum, and he was usually finished with all the required schoolwork by 10 am and I needed more work for him to do, something that would hold his interest. The curriculum focused on the Classics, so why not teach him a Classic language, and what's more Classic than Latin! Because home-schooling was starting to get popular, there were many resources out there, and I was able to get flashcards, workbooks, textbooks appropriate to his age group, even a few children's books written in Latin, like Winnie Ille Pu. We had fun doing the work together and he continued with Latin courses throughout high school, even taking a college level course when only 14. Knowing Latin helped his vocabulary greatly, so much so that it helped earn him a full-tuition scholarship to the state's engineering university and entrance into its Honor's College. He's proud of his vocabulary skills and is mocked incessantly by his friends for it, even now when they're all in their late 29's and early 30's. It's all in fun - all but one of them was also in the Honor's College in the same university, each in their own engineering major. The one in the bio-mechanical engineering program is now in med school and yes, he still laughs at my son's "very correct word usage," as he calls it, and has been known to IM him when writing papers to get his opinion on the wording of things.  

Back to Dr. Barnard and the brain. I think it's time to dust out the cobwebs in mine with something a little more challenging than matching games on Disney videos or nutrition books, so I dragged out the old English From the Roots Up cards my son made all those years ago and I signed up at the Latin Word A Day web site:

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I even dusted off my well-worn copy of the Winnie the Pooh book shown above.

Hopefully this will help prevent my brain from becoming Swiss cheese. There's no history of Alzheimer's in my own family, even though a lot on my mother's side lived into their late 80's, 90's and my great-grandmother and her sister both went over 100. But it exists on my husband's side. His mother started her Alzheimer's symptoms in her late 60's, and her sister, the aunt who just died from it last month, was lucky enough to not start until she was in her early 90's, but it ravaged her. By the time she died, she not only know who anyone was, where she was, when it was, but who she was. She forgot everything, including how to eat. She had forgotten a few years ago how to go to the bathroom and I was so grateful for adult diapers until she eventually needed a colostomy to go #2 (for another reason, not the Alzheimer's) and a catheter for #1 (this was because of the Alzheimer's. It was necessary for hygiene and infection control reasons.) I do NOT want either my husband or myself to wind up like that! Or our son, but he has many year to go to worry about that, but he wold be the one who would have to take care of us if we started to suffer from dementia. If following a healthy low-fat plant based diet, doing a few Leslie Sansone or Richard Simmons workouts and learning a few new vocabulary words a day will help prevent it, so be it!

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