As reported by OurParents.com, January 1, 2010.

How to Keep Our Minds Sharp as We Age

By James Zipadelli

OurParents.com asked two experts – Dr. George Kuchel and Patt Lind-Kyle – about ways Americans can keep their minds sharp as they age. Kuchel is the Director of the UConn Center on Aging and the Citicorp Chair in Geriatrics & Gerontology at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Patt Lind-Kyle is a therapist and author of the book Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain: Applying the Exciting New Science of Brain Synchrony for Creativity, Peace and Presence (Energy Psychology Press, 2009)

Q: At what age should we keep our minds sharp?

DK: "I think it’s something we should be concerned with when we’re young. Alzheimer’s [is] a major concern as we get close to retirement age. More research indicates most people do not develop Alzheimer’s even in old age. There are things we can do to slow development of dementia. People should not be worried about it, but there are things people can do before they approach their senior years."

Q: So what are those positive things we can do?

DK: "The old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ is very important. For cognitive activity, which affects everything from memory to how we think, there is increasing evidence that the more we use our brain, the better we age. Physical activity – not only do muscles and bones age better, but minds age better too."

"Things you don’t do that could be harmful – diseases such as diabetes can have an affect on the mind as well. Anything that relates to diabetes should be avoided. Significant obesity can have affect on the mind as well. Maintaining good body weight is important. Smoking and high blood pressure are risk factors too. A growing body of knowledge indicates that stress has damage to brain cells and is a vicious cycle."

"Stress is a normal human response as a result of living in the jungle that comes when a lion would want to attack us. It is a physiological response to get ready to escape in order to survive. The way that your mind gets your body to get away safely is releasing stress hormones from tissues. Your skin gets flush, your mind becomes sharper. It has short-term benefits, but it’s different nowadays. Someone says something we don’t like, we respond with stress. We’re no longer attacked by lions every day. When those responses are prolonged, they contribute to heart disease, hardening of arteries, and brain cells attached to memory. If you are stressed for a long period of time, the brain cells malfunction and die."

Q: Brain cells aren’t something we can grow, are they? You have them, and once they die, they die? Right?

DK: "The convention wisdom up until a few years ago was that we are born with brain cells and we lose more of these cells as we age. Now evidence suggests that we tend to keep brain cells we have – some parts of the brain has the potential for brain to repair itself late in life. The injured brain can repair itself. There’s a lot of excitement to use stem cells for treating brain diseases, even though it is controversial. Studies have shown that you can take a skin cell from a patient and grow it with factors to make it behave like a nerve cell. Progenitor cells can be encouraged in older adults to remain active and healthy later in life."

Q: Your example of progenitor cells is very interesting. How do you encourage older cells to remain active and healthy later in life? I’m 25—I would think it would be easier to change my cells than someone that’s, say, 70 years old.

DK: "You raise a good question. Cells become less adaptable, less plastic, as we age. But as we get older, the ability for cells to respond to challenges do go down, so it’s actually more difficult in younger cells."

“Having a higher level of education is an important protecting factor in developing dementia. The thinking is that you’ve used your mind more in life and the connections with your brain cells are more complex. People who are active, who are always remain active, remain sharp over time. Walking and exercise can make your mind highly functional and useful late in life."

"Anything is beneficial. People think of the word exercise — they think about barbells. There is evidence that climbing a flight of stars could be beneficial. Instead of driving to get the quart of milk, walk. In Westfarms (mall), you can see a group of people walking from one end to the other. All of that is beneficial."

Patt Lind-Kyle

Q: Patt, you have so many responsibilities – family, work, and children. How do you find time to focus your attention and quiet your mind?

PLK: "One of the things that make this mind so busy is the fast frequencies in the brain. Beta brain waves are fast frequencies. When you’re at work, maintaining our lives, the mind will be very busy. It is our default system. It is when the mind is involved with our self and others. Our brain has different frequencies. When the brain frequencies become a little slower, you become a little calmer with less of a busy mind."

Q: So what are some things we can do to quiet our minds?

PLK: "One way to slow down the thoughts and the frequencies of the brain is to just close our eyes. Closing our eyes slows the frequency down. Also, when your eyes are closed allow your eyes to look up and you feel your body become a little more relaxed and you move into alpha brain waves."

"Yawning actually allows you to relax. After two or three yawns, you begin to feel your shoulders drop, and when that happens, thoughts become slower."

"Exercise — doing aerobics – helps quiet the mind. If you do a walk and a fast walk, you’ll notice those thoughts beginning to shift because you’re starting to get into alpha. Dance and yoga, and using my CDs, also works. It requires training and it depends on the person, but it helps!"