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27 Sep 2023

Keep your brain ticking along

About the Brain

Contrary to some expectations the ageing brain can still be a formidable ally and friend.

This is not a call to sit back on your laurels, and bathe in the glory of brain power feats-of-wonder from the past.

The adage ‘use it or lose it’ has particular merit in keeping your mental faculties as fit as possible. Jump up and celebrate, that some of the most powerful brain motivated moments lie in front of you.

The esteemed Harvard Medical School shares encouraging, and context setting, findings on mental matters.
At middle age, the brain begins to draw on more of its capacity for improved judgement and decision making.

If you forget a name or two, take longer to finish the crossword, or find it hard to manage two tasks at once, you're not on the road to dementia. What you're experiencing is your brain changing the way it works as you get older. And in many ways, it's actually working better.

Studies have shown that older people have better judgment, are better at making rational decisions, and are better able to screen out negativity than their juniors are. Setting the scene for the older brain at work.

Harvard Medical School Professor Bruce Yanker, poses the question of ‘how is it possible for older people to function better even as their brains slow?’

MRIs taken of a teenager working through a problem, show a great deal of information processing on one side of the prefrontal cortex. Where conscious reasoning takes place. In middle age the other side of the brain starts taking up duties. In seniors both sides of the brain share the task equally. Although it may take a little longer to get to a solution, inductive and spatial reasoning work well as one.

Here are some suggestions to maximize performance, and gain the benefits of a well ageing brain.

Take your brain for a walk
Getting regular exercise is also important. Physical exercise is the best-documented way to preserve brain function. It helps you to lay down new memories and better focus on the tasks ahead of you. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise on most days is all you need.

Make a list
Write down the times when you've zoned out, forgotten what you were doing, or misplaced something you need. Were you doing something so routine—driving a familiar route or shopping at the supermarket—that you may not have to give it much conscious thought? Were you under stress, like rushing to an appointment? Building up this portfolio of situations can help you better prepare and plan around life management.

Practise being more aware in similar situations
One way to do this is to describe what you're doing as you do it. For example: "I'm driving down the road leading to home, "I'm putting my keys on the hall table." This play-by-play commentary is going to help you remember what you have done.

Concerns about your memory
If you or your family/ whānau are worried about your memory, thinking, or behaviour, talk to your health provider; and find information on the Dementia NZ website at www.dementia.nz and Alzheimers NZ website https://www.alzheimers.org.nz/about-dementia/10-warning-signs/

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Date Published: September 2023

To be reviewed: September 2026