AARP Announces New Survey Results and a New Staying Sharp Service
AARP has just released an important survey on brain health. One conclusion from the survey is no surprise and hasn’t changed since I ran the Staying Sharp program from 2004-2009: people believe that brain health is a critical component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One thing that has changed, however is that more younger people are concerned about the health of their brains and feel the need to do something to keep their brain’s sharp. Great! General awareness of the problem of cognitive decline with age has grown, and people are also more aware, in broad terms, of the type of lifestyle changes needed to protect brains and to make them more resilient.
The survey reveals an enduring problem, however; few of the survey respondents actually make the required behavior changes that are needed to protect their brains. We know what to do, but don’t do it!
In the wake of this study, AARP has revived their Staying Sharp initiative, a move that we applaud. For a fee of $21, what we will call Staying Sharp 2.0 (SS 2.0) promises to provide: a) access to online brain training exercises; b) an eNewletter that provides “access to up-to-date research and insights around brain health;” and c) web-based videos with science-based tips about how to “support brain health in a holistic way.”
Between 2004 and 2009 I ran SS 1.1, which expanded the initial SS 1.0 program developed by Shelley Buckingham (now at AARP Oregon). These initial versions of Staying Sharp partnered with the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and featured moderated public discussions with top neuroscientists who addressed three core questions: 1) what do we need to know about the brain to have a meaningful discussion about brain health; 2) why do some brains become diseased as we age; and 3) what can we do to prevent our brains from becoming diseased? These SS Forums were very popular and attracted sold-out audiences from 1,000 to 2,000 people. People were clearly eager to hear and absorb current information about brain health from highly trusted sources.
After the demise of Staying Sharp 1.1, Roger Anunsen (a consultant for SS1.1) and I founded MINDRAMP Consulting and, during the six-year period between SS 1.1 and the just-announced SS 2.0, we have continued to work diligently to advance the field of brain health. While we can no longer use the Staying Sharp name, we have arrived at what we can confidently call Brain Health 3.0. BH 3.0 goes beyond the program that Staying Sharp 2.0 appears to be offering in a number of significant ways that we will explore in more depth in subsequent blogs.
AARP’s (SS2.0) will raise awareness of lifestyle approaches to preventing cognitive decline, which is great. It will also, we hope, become a reliable repository for relevant research. We hope that new research is reported with sufficient contextual background. If all that is provided are tips and factoids, the new information may just confuse and frustrate subscribers.
Access to online brain training exercises is okay, but causes us some concern. It will be a shame if subscribers feel they have covered their brain health bases by playing some online games. The truth is that much more is needed. As AARP itself recognizes, brain health requires a holistic approach. “AARP Staying Sharp isn’t just about brain exercises,” says Lynn Mento, VP of Membership at AARP, “but about promoting healthier living as a holistic way to support brain heath, by keeping fit, learning more by challenging your brain, managing your stress, eating right, and connecting with others.”
Our ideas on Brain Health 3.0 are explored in detail in a new eBook called Strong Brains, Sharp Minds that is available through smashwords.com, and in a new workbook about to be published called The RAMP: The MINDRAMP Guide to Designing Your Own Brain Health Strategy. In subsequent blogs here, and on our website at www.mindramp.org, we will highlight the key developments that, we feel, move the brain health field forward in significant ways.
1. THINK PREVENTION - Think prevention, rather than cure. It is much easier to prevent damage to your brain than it is repair it or cure the effects once the damage goes too far.
2. ADOPT A BRAIN HEALTHY LIFESTYLE – Bad News: Sorry, there is no magic brain health pill. Good News: The one, proven approach that works is making changes to your own behavior. You need to adopt and sustain a brain-healthy lifestyle.
3. CUT RISKS AND IMPROVE BRAIN HEALTH- One trick to keeping your brain healthy is not really a trick at all. Deliberately limit your exposure to things that put your brain at risk in the first place.
4. INCREASE PROTECTION TO BUILD A BIG, RESILIENT BRAIN - You also need to stimulate positive plasticity growth of your brain and nervous system. Bigger brain systems are more resistant to damage and more resilient whenever damage or disease occurs.
5. COORDINATE - Your brain, nervous system and body function through the coordinated action of many complex operating systems. Change one system and the others are affected. Consequently, you need to take care of all of the systems in a coordinated or “combinatorial” manner.
MINDRAMP’S ESSENTIAL COGWHEELS OF BRAIN HEALTH ©
Just what behaviors and lifestyles changes can minimize risks and maximize protection? MINDRAMP clusters the required changes around six core areas we call the essential CogWheels of Brain Health. Remember, that all of the CogWheels need to be addressed and working well together to keep your brain healthy and give it a chance to grow stronger.
Stress Management - Growth and development occur in response to what we call “benign stress,” low levels of stress that stimulate repair and strengthening of body and brain. Chronic, unrelieved stress, however, is toxic to your brain (and body) and is implicated in almost all conditions that contribute to cognitive decline. Manage stress to protect your brain and encourage mental development.
Physical Exercise / Movement - Our brains evolved largely to promote meaningful movement. When we move, the brain, nervous system and body engage in constant two-way communication that keeps the entire system healthy and vital. The absence of movement signals the brain to shut down. Move!
Mental Development / Stimulation - Mental challenge (benign stress) grows and strengthens brain structures and networked connections enabling us to think more deeply and creatively. The more healthy brain structures we have, the more resilient the brain becomes and the better it can compensate for natural wear & tear and age-related diseases.
Social Engagement - Human beings evolved as social beings. We thrive when engaged with others and become stressed when isolated or lonely. The need to negotiate complex social relationships probably stimulated the evolution of our large, complex brains. Social exchange stimulates the brain.
Diet & Nutrition - You are what you eat - what you ingest. Our brain is altered by the food we eat, the air we breathe, the liquids we drink and the environmental conditions we are exposed to. Brain health requires mindful ingestion promotes health of body and mind.
Sleep & Mental Rest - Memory and learning is consolidated during sleep. Brain and body are restored and repaired during sleep and toxic waste products are flushed from the brain during sleep. Sleep is critical to health and well being.
For an in-depth examination of the essential CogWheels of Brain Health, and the MINDRAMP approach to brain health, check out our book eBook STRONG BRAINS, SHARP MINDS at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/503385