My grandmother is legally blind and deaf, but my dad made a great comment to me the other day: “she is blind in one eye and sharp as a tack in the other”. Now 85, for the last 15 years she has had to adjust to her hearing and vision loss through cognitive flexibility and acutely tuning her other senses. The result? An elderly woman who does not appear to be experiencing any element of cognitive decline. In fact, she knows more about adaptive computers, closed circuit reading machines, hearing aids and compensatory tools than I do. The old cliché is true when we talk of cognition – “use it or lose it”.
Our brains are made of billions of neurons, which interact with each other to complete specific tasks. Signals are sent from one neuron to another along neural pathways, and these determine our thoughts, emotions, insights, and so much more. Each task relies on a different neural pathway, so the pathway for reading a book is different than the pathway for putting on our shirt. The more we use a pathway, the stronger the connection becomes.
These neurons have the ability to physically change themselves when faced with new and difficult experiences. This ability is called neuroplasticity. As we are exposed to new areas, tasks, information or experiences, neural pathways are formed and existing ones are reshaped. This will continue throughout our entire lives as we learn. As we have experienced through practicing a musical instrument, memorizing our shopping list or recalling a friend’s phone number, if we consciously focus and train our brains in a certain area, they will become faster and more efficient at performing those tasks.
Just as we need to exercise the muscles in our body, we also need to exercise our brain. One form of brain exercise is called cognitive training. Online training programs have been developed to allow anyone with an Internet connection to have a daily cognitive workout by completing exercises which strengthen our neural pathways. This could include memory, concentration problem solving, visual perception – you name it!
Here is a list of some of the readily available online cognitive training programs:
- · Lumosity(www.lumosity.com): Brain training exercises that focus on memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing and problem solving. Specific areas to work on are selected as your create a personal profile. Lumosity will automatically create a set of five exercises to complete daily, and keep track of your progress. Membership can be purchased on a monthly ($15) or yearly ($80) basis. It can be trialed for free, but the trial has limited games available.
- · Mind Games (www.mindgames.com): Brain games selected to focus on memory, attention, spatial reasoning, problem solving, focus speed, fluid intelligence, stress, reaction time and visual perception. All games on the website can be played for free.
- · Actibrain(www.actibrain.com): Brain exercises to train in verbal, numerical, logical, memory and spatial areas. An online profile can be created for free and workout games played as frequently as you want. Progress charts keep track of your daily results.
- · The Brain Wizard (www.thebrainwizard.com): Brain training exercises focusing on attention, thinking, recall, concentration and memory. A trial version is available for three days and a full membership can be purchased for $0.25/day.
- · Brain Metrix (www.brainmetrix.com): Brain games focusing on reflection, creativity, memory, spatial intelligence, numbers and concentration. All games on the website can be played for free.
So, go bench press some cognition, increase your reps, and work up a cognitive sweat!