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Handbook for successful ageing - 5.3 - 5.5


5.3 Stimulate your brain!

"A rolling stone gathers no moss"
- German maxim -

"Use it or lose it"
- English maxim -

While the brain can be trained just like a muscle, it also becomes limp again when it is not used.

80% of the information which stimulate it is absorbed with the eyes; most other information is absorbed by hearing. If these stimuli cease to exist to a greater or lesser extent, for example in the case of a substantial impaired vision, a hardness of hearing without the use of balancing-out hearing aids, a long hospital stay or a "lazy holiday", then our mental learning ability declines. Therefore, some hospitals in Germany already offer memory training.

If you have some free time or can’t sleep but you do not want to read, you can play with your thoughts, like for example:

- search for a name, a name of a person you know, a poet, a composer, a writer, a scientist, a flower, an animal, a city, a river, a country, a sort of produce or a drink for every letter of the alphabet;

- for every letter of the alphabet, search for a city ending with this letter;

- imagine a trip from one city to another, repeat the names of both cities and then travel on to a third one, etc., until you forget one city (count with your fingers to see if you are able to remember more cities the next time!);

- search for words which are the same, either read forwards or backwards like radar or kayak;

- spell words backwards and try to say them;

- change letters in a word in order to create new words, like mouse - house - horse - norse - nurse;

- think of words whose first part matches the last part of the previous word, like country house, house front, front wheel;

- think of two words and build a sentence with these words being the beginning and the end of the sentence;

- build a chain of words by adding new words to the original one - like front, front door and front door key;

- think of a word and search for rhymes like mouse, house, louse and rouse, and make up a story using these words;

- think of a number and add the next higher one; subtract it again to check and afterwards start calculating with other numbers;

- multiply a two-digit number by itself or even build the cube;

- divide high numbers by one or two-digit numbers;

- imagine how you describe a person to someone so that he/she can guess the name.

You could also convert the latter into an entertaining game with other people. Or you could turn the game into a job quiz and mind games, involving everyone.

Going on a group travel, you could prepare so well that in the end you know more than the tour guide.

Keep a diary in which you not only write down the events of the day but also your thoughts.

Change your habits or movements, which have become a routine for you, from time to time. You could, for example, eat or brush your teeth with the other hand, go up and down the stairs backwards or start climbing the stairs with the other foot. In the case of steadily repeating actions, our brain switches to some kind of "automatic system", which results in a loss of many stimuli. Therefore you should intentionally incorporate new activities, think about reading a more demanding newspaper than the one you have been reading so far, and change your way to work or the store occasionally. You should wonder permanently or in an individual case how you could simplify your tasks at work or at home, what else you could do on a car journey or while walking through your apartment; this way you will be induced again and again to think about something.

An older person who learns a poem can, according to Reinhard Abeln, see that as little as four lines a day can act as a tonic for the brain.

When for example learning by heart, it is helpful to move while doing so, like walking up and down the room, to connect both sides of the brain. During an exam, drawing a cross and looking at it can help eliminate mental blockages.

Furthermore, you can train your senses by doing the following:

- fill your plate, perhaps also cut up the meat and then eat with your eyes closed,

- walk around the flat in the dark while creating sound which is reflected by the walls, by clicking your tongue, snapping your fingers or clapping, so that you do not bump yourself on anything,

- scrutinize and touch our coins, mix several sets and sort them in containers while you are blindfolded,

- do the same with peas, beans, lentils, rice, peanuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds,

- feel the pattern of a crystal bowl or vase with your eyes closed,

- feel the difference between peaches, tomatoes, apricots and plums with your eyes closed,

- feel the individual clothes in your closet with your eyes closed, enjoy the softness or smoothness of the fabric, feel the cut and experience which piece of clothing is coming to your mind.

Try to put yourself in other peoples’ positions and situations. Not only does this support the activation of all parts of the brain, but it also helps you to get more social competence and empathy.

Solve crosswords, word games in which words are made up from a given list of syllables and other quizzes.

By the way, a short nap helps to promote the memory during the second half of the day.


5.4 Do mental activation training!

Do mental training to improve your mental fitness. Details can be found on

Even if you practise a mentally demanding task, mental training is still important because it increases the speed of your ability to process information as well as your memory. Even children can already benefit from the training, in terms of being able to learn better. You should especially do the training while you are on holiday or ill, as it will be easier to continue working later on. Lying on the beach in the sun is not only bad for your skin (see below, 9.3.6), but it also temporarily reduces your mental performance, when you are not "playing" with your thoughts (see above, 5.3).

Use reading the newspaper to activate your brain by turning the paper to the left and to the right by 90 degree; read it upside down and count as fast as possible how often a combination of letters, like "ch", "gh", "sh", "th", "wh", and "ou" is included in an article.

Use TV for this purpose, too, by looking for demanding programmes in advance.

We do not know whether memory training prolongs our life or not. But at least it extends our ability to care for ourselves prudently and to live independently. Furthermore, if you are mentally fit, able to understand complicated facts quickly and able to solve complex problems, then you are more emotionally balanced and feel better and more satisfied.

5.5 Further advice

If you want to take a medicine, make a call, prepare a meal or leave the house at a certain time, then you should set an alarm clock or a timer correspondingly. If you want to take something with you when leaving the house, then place it where you can see it.

Even if you permanently train your memory, you should always have a notepad and a pen around, even when you are not at home! What comes to your mind now does not necessarily come to your mind again when you are at home. I even interrupt doing exercises, getting dressed or eating in order to write something down. And once you have done this you are freed from the pressure of having to memorise it, and your memory is free for new thoughts.

If you are blind and you are able to read Braille, carry a postcard-sized board and a pen with you. In addition, learn - if you do not know it already - how to write on the board from the right to the left hand side (mirror-imaged). To make the writing easier for you, use simple writing paper.

To mesmerize names you should, if necessary, think of memory aids like for example job titles or animals.

In order to remember telephone numbers, you could try to split them up in pairs of twos, like 86.26.26 or in pairs of threes, like 666.456 or 512.512. Maybe there is even a birthday date or your account number included in the number. The numbers game alone can be helpful, too.

If it happens that you go from the living room to the kitchen in order to do or get something there, but once you arrive in the kitchen you have forgotten what it was, you should go back to the living room. Quite often it will come back to your mind then.

Otherwise, you should note the maxim of the ancient Romans "plenus venter non studet libenter", which means "a full stomach does not like studying", but also "mens sana in corpora sano", which means "a healthy spirit in a healthy body": Therefore, you should also do everything possible to stay physically healthy, you should pay particular attention to use all the medical check-ups your health insurance company offers you.





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