Fight Cognitive Decline at Your Library

by Kelly Laney, Springville Road Regional Branch Library

As an adult librarian, I have the opportunity to interact daily with many patrons, some of whom are enjoying the autumns of their lives. One thing I have noticed in this population is an ever-growing interest in mental acuity. Whether they are worried about their own minds or are caretaking either a spouse, parents, or sibling, the requests for information on what they can do to stave off memory loss and delay Alzheimer’s or dementia are ongoing.

In developing our adult collection at the Springville Road Regional Branch Library, I have tried to stay current on research that deals with this problem, and one of the facts I recently learned was contrary to what I’d learned as a psychology undergrad at UAB in the '80s, human beings continue to develop neurons in our brains our entire lives! The old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is wrong. We continue to learn, it just requires more of an effort as we age—but it’s got a great payoff.

Research indicates that exercise and a good diet (especially containing omega-3 oils) helps to form a protein that promotes neurogenesis. The catch is that if you don’t actively stimulate those neurons, they die. If you do, they integrate into your brain and help to fight cognitive decline!
So, we exercise. We eat right. Then we actively engage our brains in learning something that we’ve never done before, like reading up on a new topic, learning a new language, or learning to play a musical instrument. If we produce the protein (BDNF—brain-derived neurotropic factor) and challenge our brains, evidence suggests that we can stay mentally sharper longer in our lives. There are so many ways to engage and use your brain; and if you find some like-minded people to learn with, you’ll increase your socialization, too.

At the Springville Road Library, we offer Brain Jam (the next class is April 30 at 1:00 p.m.). We have fun, learn a little about music and different instruments, sing, dance, and make new friends. Don’t worry if you don’t have an instrument, know nothing about music, and can’t carry a tune in a bucket. We have simple instruments and you can help keep the beat on tambourine or rhythm sticks or hum through a kazoo. At the very least you can practice and share your dance moves! I don’t know about you, but a few years, months, or even weeks that I can hang onto my mind would be well worth a little exercise and energy.

But don’t take my word for it. Do a little research on your own and see if you find that being interested in something and spending a little time reading up on it gives you the incentive to take a walk, eat some fish, and attend a program at your local library.

Here are a few items you might want to “check out”:

The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge, M.D.
Calm Clarity: How to Use Science to Rewire Your Brain for Greater Wisdom, Fulfillment, and Joy by Due Quach
The Mind and the brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Sharon Begley
The Power of Neuroplasticity [electronic resource] by Shad Helmstetter
My Plastic Brain: One Woman's Yearlong Journey to Discover If Science Can Improve Her Mind by Caroline Williams
Reclaim Your Brain: How to Calm Your Thoughts, Heal Your Mind, and Bring Your Life Back Under Control by Joseph A. Annibali
Real Happy Pill: Power Up Your Brain by Moving Your Body by Anders Hansen

You can also check out an immersive learning experience through the great courses that are available through the library in DVD, audiobook, and streaming through Hoopla. Here’s just a few of the selections (there are hundreds available):

Understanding Nonverbal Communication by Mark G. Frank
The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes by Kenneth W. Harl
Ancient Civilizations of North America by Edwin Barnhart
12 Essential Scientific Concepts by Indre Viskontas
Brain Myths Exploded: Lessons from Neuroscience by Professor Indre Viskontas

You've got a lot to learn, and the good news is that with a little effort, you can learn longer. So, get on it, Fido and Fiddette! Get with the new tricks already!