A WRITER'S WIT
Of course, that was the thing about Washington, really; you didn’t have to be born to anything, you could just buy your way in.
Allen Drury, from his novel *Advise and Consent*
Born September 2, 1918
My Book World
In March I posted a profile of Norman Doidge’s book The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. It was concerned with how the brain can, through certain training, be changed. It contained a number of sections about individuals who had overcome physical or mental difficulties through certain brain training.
Nussbaum’s book is different in that it offers certain prescriptions for helping one to see that one’s brain can retain plasticity as we grow older. The brain does not have to atrophy, as once was the common thinking. I found the book helpful for a number of reasons. One, the author distills some complex information into something we can all understand. Two, for each of the five things we must do, he offers simple but effective ways to increase our brain power as we age.
Nussbaum’s develops five critical areas: 1) Socialization 2) Physical Activity 3) Mental Stimulation 4) Spirituality and 5) Nutrition. He then tells how each one of these concepts is important and what we need to do to optimize each area. For example, he makes it clear under nutrition that the brain must have certain fats to thrive, and not the kind that comes from chips and fries. Under spirituality, he makes the case that regular meditation, prayer, or other types of mental rest and reflection help the brain to take a break from its rigors.
I wish I’d had this book when I was in my thirties; I might be much smarter now. Kidding. But I do think, from what Nussbaum says, that it’s never too late. One of his most important points is that taking care of the brain helps to build a mental reserve, which helps to fight off or delay dementia. Each one of the five areas is important and works in conjunction with the others. If you’re curious about how your brain works or how to stave off old age, this book may be a good place to begin.
One other point Nussbaum makes repeatedly is that we must continue to learn things that are “novel and complex” for us. For me, I ought to learn sign language because I’ve never done anything like that before. For others, it might be trying to learn a new camera or studying a musical instrument. The task must be novel and complex for the individual. Take up knitting if you’re normally all thumbs!
Brain Training Not Draining
At the beginning of my training I took a test that provided a baseline for my brain’s condition, and then just recently, after ten weeks, I took another test. I was pleased with the results. By training three to five times a week, my score went up nine points. I shan’t say where I began. But I have begun to notice subtle differences in my life. When I’m attempting to learn a new piece on the piano, the memorization seems to be coming faster. Only time will tell if the training will help me make even more improvement, but I plan to continue!
NEXT TIME: FIRST INSTALLMENT OF DIY PUBLISHING