How to avoid brain fade as we grow older

Feb 10, 2012 by

I recently can across a fascinating blog and I would like to share with you some ideas from one of the posts.  The blogger is Matt Stillman at Stillman Says and he conducted a creative experiment in April 2009 in Union Square in New York City. He sat at a table with two chairs and a sign that reads “Creative Approaches to What You Have Been Thinking About” . He waits for people to come to him with a problem they would like to discuss and he tries to come up with a creative and alternative way of thinking about that problem.  I believe he is still there.

One particular story concerns an older lady who came up to him with the question ‘How do I keep my brain sharp?’ Obviously this is something we tend to worry about as we grow older and maybe this particular lady had some condition that made her more vulnerable or concerned.   Matt Stillman’s approach was indeed innovative yet simple and I’d like to share his thoughts with you below:

I started off by saying that we are literate, pattern seeking creatures. So we tend to find ways of doing things well and repeat those sequences. That approach essentially creates grooves in the brain – or neural pathways if you want to be fancy about it. The brain is quite plastic and so to keep the brain supple and in top shape it is important to break patterns and recruit other parts of the brain to do the jobs at hand.

Here is a laundry list of what I tossed out for her as she sat there – interested and engaged:

- Do the things normally done with her right hand with her left.

- When walking to common locations to take alternate routes.

- Find the key to the front door by touch and then open it with closed eyes.

- See things you don’t normally see – museums, locations, people etc

- Get all multiple senses stimulated at the same time.Smell things and try to guess what they are.

- Write the alphabet on your hand with your tongue.

Basically, radically break up the schedules and patterns of your life and do fun things that challenge you in lots of ways. She appreciated all this and smiled at the fun and silliness of some of the suggestions.

Matt then went on to play an intriguing game with her which I won’t share here but if you would like to read the full post you can find it at “I don’t think we need to go all the way to 20″

Matt’s suggestions are very simple and easy and yet so important to our well-being and yes, I can believe they contribute to the functioning of our brains.  Keep exploring new challenges, however small on regular basis.  A few years ago I learnt to ride a motorbike for the first time. Whilst I didn’t take it up – far too scary on today’s roads – I really did enjoy the challenge of how to co-ordinate my legs, feet and hands in new ways whilst remembering to look where I was going. Plus, of course the sheer excitement of learning a new physical skill and being on a powerful machine.

I would love to hear of your experiences learning a new skill later in life.

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  1. Libby,

    I just found out that you linked to my blog post. Thank you so much for reading and writing about it.

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