As I age I become more forgetful. I know that’s ok because it happened to my mum and dad and friends parent’s and my grandparents – it’s just what happens when we age. Or is it?
I used to think so until I heard an interview with Dr Michael Merzenich from the University of California where he states that: “Your brain continues to make new neurons throughout life in response to mental activity.”
That got me thinking – maybe it was lack of stimulation that caused the older generation around me to become more forgetful. My parents watched TV every evening when they retired, I remember being jealous because I was so busy and couldn’t join them. They didn’t extend themselves with new challenges because they believed they didn’t have to, they were retired and it was their time to relax. They accepted that the brain they had was never going to change and in fact it would only deteriorate. As they became more and more forgetful they would joke about the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and dementia as if these were a fait accompli, a foregone conclusion over which they had no control.
With regard to television Dr Mercola says, “Research has shown that watching TV has a major impact on our brain chemistry. The longer we watch the television screen the easier the brain skips into a receptive, passive mode, meaning that messages are streamed into your brain without any participation from you.” Sounds like we’re being drugged!
Dr Mercola’s message is loud and clear: use it or lose it. “The basic concept is simple,” he says, “the brain changes physically, functionally and chemically as you acquire any ability or skill. You know this instinctively. Something must be changing as your abilities improve or as new abilities emerge. You are actually remodeling your brain machinery by practicing the skill: those physical changes account for your learning. Actually what the brain is doing is changing its local wiring, changing the details of how the machinery controlling your behaviour is connected. It’s also changing itself in other physical, chemical and functional ways. Collectively those changes account for the improvement or acquisition of any human ability.”
Is there something you are passionate about but never seem to have the time to do? Why not make the time by swapping out some TV programs? Have you forgotten the sense of reward you feel when completing something that held your attention and focus, something you learned from, something concrete to show for your time, something you were proud of? I decided a while ago to only watch TV a couple of hours a week and this has allowed me time to sew quilts, paint an abstract picture on canvas for the spare bedroom, write my blogs and read brain books and I’ve also adopted the habit of completing a puzzle or crossword when travelling by bus or train. What could you do?