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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Where'd I Put My Keys?

I’ve had some middlin’ memory lapses these past two weeks, most related to where I’ve put things in my new apartment: house keys, wallet, sunglasses, and cell phone, for starters.

In the old place, each had their spot, easily retrieved as I headed out the door or down to do the laundry. Oh, yah, and I knew where the laundry detergent was too. (I think I put it in the storage area in this place.)

I had a little bit of a panic the other day when I couldn’t find my faculty ID from the Lutheran School of Theology, where I’m guest lecturing in a course this semester. At the old place, it was in the dining room. But now I don’t have a dining room, instead a dining “area” in this large loft-like studio. Just minutes before leaving for class on Monday, I finally saw it on a wall shelf in the “office” area.

But these are less memory lapses than the need to acquire new habits. And when those circuits are finally laid down, retrieving the keys et al. will be automatic.

But what about maintaining memory in general? Especially as we age?  Lucky for us, it turns out to be as easy as taking a walk.  For more about that, here’s part of a Chicago Tribune article from October 13, by Keri Wiginton: “Brain-training apps don't work. Here's what does.”

It turns out games aimed at training the brain will likely only help you get better at those specific games. So you're out of luck if you're hoping those Sudoku apps will help you focus more at work or remember where you left your keys. 

There's no compelling evidence that any brain-training product enhances cognitive performance in real-world activities, reports a study published last week in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

So doing crosswords will help you get better at crosswords, but it won't help you remember your new coworker's name. 

"A company might claim benefits for memory, but you should ask whether the benefits extend to memory tasks other than those you practiced, including ones that you want to improve," said Daniel Simons, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and first author of the review.

Lumo Labs — which claimed their Lumosity app could prevent age-related memory decline and help kids do better in school — even had to pay $2 million to settle a false-advertising suit brought by the Federal Trade Commission.

So in honor of National Train Your Brain Day, we're here to offer two techniques that actually work.

For memory, focus on movement.

This is bad news for people who hope to maintain their mind by playing on their smartphone. But it's great for those who want to actively sharpen their focus.
"Exercise is the only evidence-based activity that will improve cognitive fitness," said Ken Weingardt, a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

People who engage in higher levels of physical activity are less likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke — all factors related to developing dementia, he said.

A recent study by the National Institute of Aging shows that exercising causes muscles to release a protein that stimulates production of new cells in the hippocampus — a part of the brain that controls memory.

Try Nike+ Training Club if you want a personal-fitness app to keep you moving. It's free and you can choose from four- to eight-week programs, or pick from more than 100 single workouts ranging from beginner to expert.

(NOTE: the second technique described—meditation—is not related specifically to memory. To read more about what that practice does help, click here:)

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