Welcome to the AUGUST 2014 issue of my free Memory Tips email newsletter. Below are powerful strategies for improving your memory. Ready to boost your brain power?
Below are powerful strategies for improving your memory. Plus I've included links to free online brain games that can strengthen your thinking skills.
In this issue:
Have your memory tested, if you think it's getting worse
Build your muscle of Attention with daily meditation practice
Heading the ball in soccer may cause brain injury
Featured Free Brain Games
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My goal is to help you learn faster and remember more. That's why I created Memory-Improvement-Tips.com and this email newsletter.
The secret to a more powerful brain is two-fold: 1) improve your brain health, and 2) learn memory techniques. This can lead to more success and fulfillment in life!
Have Your Memory Tested If You Think It's Getting Worse
If you think your memory is getting worse, it might be true. Scientists have found a link between worries about memory and increased amyloid plaque in the brain.
Amyloid can destroy brain cells and lead to Alzheimer's dementia. If you are mid-aged or older and concerned about your worsening memory, it may make sense to ask your doctor for a neurologic assessment.
As reported in Harvard Men's Health Watch newsletter,
"People who are completely normal, but who have a subjective sense that their memories are changing for the worse, are more likely to have amyloid collecting in their brains... which is a risk factor for developing cognitive decline later."
Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is the middle stage between normal memory loss due to aging and dementia. Your doctor may be able to perform screening tests to determine if you are at risk for MCI or dementia.
Some forgetfulness is normal and NOT a sign of disease. For example, not remembering where you put your car keys or why you entered a room - these may be due to distraction or normal aging. You can use simple memory tricks to combat such forgetfulness.
Other kinds of forgetfulness may signal the beginning of mental decline or even dementia. For example, having trouble following the story in an episode of a television program.
Consider the examples of forgetfulness in the following lists. Symptoms in the first list likely indicate normal aging. The second list indicates more serious memory loss. If you often experience the signs of cognitive decline in the second list, you should consider seeing your doctor.
Probably Normal Aging:
Potential Signs of Cognitive Decline:
Walking into a room and forgetting why you entered
Having trouble recalling the names of unfamiliar people
A change in memory compared with when you were younger
Memory changes similar to other people of the same age
Misplacing items, but later recalling where you put them
Getting lost in familiar surroundings
Having difficulty remembering important details of recent events
Difficulty following the plot of a TV program or book because of memory problems
Memory changes that are worse than those of other people of your same age
Misplacing items, and being unable to relocate them later
What is cognitive testing? Because there is no single Yes/No test to determine the presence of mental decline, a cognitive evaluation may involve several steps.
Your doctor can tell you more, but memory loss evaluations may include:
Verbal interview about your symptoms and history;
Neurological exam to check reflexes, eye movements, and balance;
Blood tests to rule out medical problems such as a Vitamin B12 deficiency;
Written mental status testing;
Brain imaging, such as MRI or CT scan, to rule out brain tumor, stroke, or bleeding.
Even if your doctor finds no evidence of cognitive decline now (which of course would be great news), such testing provides a useful baseline for the future - a starting point for your doctor to compare later on.
So if your memory seems to be worsening and you've experienced signs of cognitive decline, consider talking with your doctor about cognitive evaluation and testing.
Build your muscle of Attention with daily meditation practice
In my view, a powerful brain has 3 things going for it: intelligence, memory, and focused attention. Strengthening each to the extent you are able can help you become more productive and effective in life. Teaching you how is what Memory-Improvement-Tips.com is all about.
Boosting raw intelligence is tough, although there are hints it may be possible. On the other hand, there are many paths to improving your memory, as I never tire of preaching. Choosing to be a curious, life-long learner can help with both.
But what about that third leg of the stool - focused attention? As it turns out, there is a single, powerful way to increase your focus and concentration that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
It's called mindfulness meditation. This type of meditation has been proven over and over to boost focused attention, willpower, and self-control. Meditation has been shown to have other positive effects including stress reduction and increased sense of well being.
If you are committed to improving your brain power, I highly recommend meditation as a part of your daily routine. Meditation requires no equipment or money, and it can be done anywhere there is a little peace and quiet. Anyone can set aside 10 minutes or more a day for this practice.
To someone who has never meditated, it may appear the person is just sitting there, doing nothing. This is far from true. On the inside, they are strengthening focus and willpower by holding attention on an object such as the breath, while actively resisting distractions such as noises, itches, restlessness, and transient thoughts.
Science has validated meditation's effects. As brain scans show, meditation increases blood flow to prefrontal regions of the cortex. The right, left, and middle prefrontal areas of the brain are the exact regions where focused attention and self-control are moderated.
During my meditation sessions, I literally feel this effect behind my forehead. Not as pressure or pain - I might describe it as a mild sensation of fullness there. To me this is subjective proof that increased oxygen and nutrients are flowing to my prefrontal areas, both stimulating and strengthening the self-control and focused attention centers of my brain.
There isn't space in this newsletter for me to explain the details of how to meditate. But if you'd like to give meditation a try, there is no end of resources.
An easy way to start is by watching the short mindfulness mediation video created by Dr. David Nichtern, an expert who has led meditation workshops worldwide. You can find his introduction to mindfulness video on the Meditation and Memory page of my website.
A beautiful aspect of meditation is the more you practice, the stronger your willpower and determination become - as a direct result of the practice itself. In other words, meditation gets easier the more you do it.
Why not start your meditation practice today? Focused attention is one key to a more powerful brain, and mindfulness meditation is a known pathway to strengthening it.
Frequently heading the ball in soccer may cause brain injury
If you play soccer (known as football outside the US), you might want to "head" the ball a little less often. According to some researchers, players who frequently head the ball may have brain abnormalities similar to traumatic brain injury.
Soccer balls can travel at speeds of 50 miles per hour or more. Using your head to change the trajectory of a fast-moving ball can jolt the brain inside the skull. While heading the ball now and then is unlikely to cause cerebral damage, a large number of headings per year has been associated with degeneration of the brain's white matter.
Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine discovered that soccer players who headed the ball most tended to have abnormal features on brain scans. The brains of those who headed more than about 1,000 times per year showed abnormalities on diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans. That may seem like a lot of headings, but soccer players who practice daily can easily head the ball this much and more.
In fact, players with more than 1,800 headings per year scored more poorly on memory tests compared to those with fewer headings.
Despite these findings, other researchers have not accepted a clear link between soccer heading and brain damage. So while some evidence exists for a connection, the jury may still be out.
But as the furor over chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in professional American football players has shown, years can pass in the history of a game while scientists study an issue and debate the effects.
To help reduce the likelihood of brain injury, soccer associations emphasize proper heading techniques and equipment. For example, the use of an appropriate-sized ball for younger players as they develop head and neck strength.
For an individual player, it might be wise to err on the side of caution and simply cut back on the number of times they head the ball each year.
Reference: Lipton et al. "Soccer Heading Is Associated with White Matter Microstructural and Cognitive Abnormalities." Radiology, 2013; DOI: 10.1148/radiol.13130545
Featured FREE Brain Games
There are 241 free brain games on my website, Memory-Improvement-Tips.com. You can play them online anytime. No restrictions, no logging in. Just pick a game, go to the game page, and start playing.
Here are three games that train processing speed, an important brain skill. Processing speed is a measure of cognitive efficiency. It reflects the brain's ability to smoothly perform repetitive cognitive tasks.
Cube Field. Guide your triangle-shaped ship through a field of 3D cubes. Use your lightning-fast reflexes to squeeze through openings. Whatever happens, don't allow your ship to touch any cubes, or it's game over.
Lost in Migration. Press the arrow key that matches the direction of the bird in the center of the flock. Because the rest of the flock usually points in a different direction than the center bird, this game can be harder than it seems. This is the demo version of Lumosity's scientifically designed brain game of the same name.
Zuma Deluxe. Shoot colored balls into position to make chains of three-of-a-kind or longer. Choose your target positions quickly and carefully. That way you'll get the most points and have the best chance of completing each level.
That's all for now, and thanks for reading. For lots more tricks and strategies to improve your brain, visit the Get a Better Memory page on my website.
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