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Cognitive Decline And Brain Training

HAPPYneuron founder Dr. Bernard Croisile, Neurologist, Neuropsychologist and HAPPYneuron's Chief Scientist talks about age related brain decline and what can be done.

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What issues do people most complain about with age?

When we age, certain cognitive difficulties are usually more annoying than really hindering. These difficulties are usually due to a greater sensitivity to interferences (noise, conversations with several persons), a lesser attention and greater amount of time to simultaneously analyze several pieces of information (cooking and understanding a slightly technical conversation at the same time). Information processing is often more superficial, organizing and sorting data to be memorized occurs more slowly and producing mental images becomes more difficult. Hence, it can become more difficult to remember information and it takes more time to recall memories (names) or recent events (e.g. the reason why you actually went into a room).

Why should cognitive abilities be trained?

By training the brain's abilities, the difficulties we sometimes painfully experience in everyday life can be corrected. Studies have also shown that rich and varied cognitive stimulation can delay onsets of age related decline and Alzheimer's disease by a number years. Cognitive training consists of reinforcing brain plasticity which forms new connections between brain neurons, strengthens neural networks and, as scientists have recently discovered, regenerate new neural pathways.

How can cognitive functions be trained?

For a start, simple things such as having a rich social life, reading, doing crosswords or playing cards, cooking or gardening, already constitute natural and effective stimulation situations. Most important are variety, enthusiasm and motivation. However, one should be aware that cognitive functions cannot be trained like leg muscles. Even if playing bridge stimulates long-term memory for game rules and crosswords train word memory (spelling, definitions), playing cards will not help anyone find their keys or their car! It is therefore necessary to train all aspects of cognitive functions, especially those neglected by the routine of hobbies we are accustomed to. It should also added that training is only relevant when the lessons learned are applied to everyday life.

How often should one perform focused brain exercises?

We advise two to three training sessions a week, of about 45 minutes each, in order to maintain interest and alertness. Variety and frequency are most important.

When should one start worrying and see a doctor?

Memory difficulties occur at any age and under any circumstances: remembering a surname or a recipe, finding one’s glasses, etc. These difficulties are just ordinary consequences of normal aging or of a fragile emotional state. Difficulties to concentrate are often due to anxiety, depression and stress. Also, when aging, cultural knowledge and automatic movements (riding a bike, playing tennis, driving a car…) are not forgotten. Many of our actions are also often automatic, which explains the fact that we cannot always remember properly whether we have locked the door or not. One should start worrying as soon as these difficulties become a real handicap in daily life and occur repeatedly, such as people who cannot manage their schedule or budget any more, who always get lost and systematically forget what they have been told. In such a brain decline situation, one should seek medical advice to decide whether the person needs to consult with a neurologist or a geriatrician.
Test and track your memory regularly for free with MemTrax, a short test to detect memory trouble by HAPPYneuron.

Memory loss that disrupts everyday life is not a normal part of aging. It is a symptom of dementia, a gradual and progressive decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, a disorder that results in the loss of brain cells.

The Alzheimer's Association, the world leader in Alzheimer research and support, has developed a checklist of common symptoms to help recognize the warning signs of Alzheimer's disease.

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1. Memory loss.

Forgetting recently learned information is one of the most common early signs of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. A person begins to forget more often and is unable to recall the information later.

2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks.

People with dementia or Alzheimer's disease often find it hard to complete everyday tasks that were once familiar and nearly automatic. Individuals may forget the steps to prepare a meal, use a household appliance or participate in a lifelong hobby.

3. Problems with language.

People with Alzheimer's disease often forget simple words or substitute unusual words, making their speech or writing hard to understand. They may be unable to find the toothbrush, for example, and instead ask for "that thing for my mouth".

4. Disorientation to time and place.

People with Alzheimer's disease can become lost in their own neighborhoods, forget where they are and how they got there, and not know how to get back home.

5. Poor or decreased judgment.

Those with Alzheimer's disease may dress inappropriately, wearing several layers on a warm day or little clothing in the cold. They may show poor judgment about money, like giving away large sums to telemarketers.

6. Problems with abstract thinking.

Balancing a checkbook is a task that can be challenging for some. But a person with Alzheimer's disease may forget what numbers are and how they should be used.

7. Misplacing things.

Anyone can temporarily misplace a wallet or key. A person with Alzheimer's disease may put things in unusual places: an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl.

8. Changes in mood or behavior.

Someone with Alzheimer's disease can show rapid mood swings — from calm to tears to anger — for no apparent reason.

9. Changes in personality.

The personalities of people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease can change dramatically. They may become extremely confused, suspicious, fearful or dependent on a family member.

10. Loss of initiative.

A person with Alzheimer's disease may become very passive, sitting in front of the TV for hours, sleeping more than usual or not wanting to do usual activities.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, consult a physician today. Early and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or other dementias is an important step to getting the right treatment, care and support.


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