Mind’s a terrible thing to waste; use it or lose it
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By Julie Ann Anderson  August 30, 2013 12:00 am

As the famous commercial says, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” 

One of the challenges associated with old age is finding ways to stem memory loss by keeping the brain active and engaged.

Experts advise that mental stimulation is key to preventing memory loss and is helpful whether a person has a form of dementia or is simply experiencing the inevitable effects of aging. As with so many things, “use it or lose it” can apply here.

 Write

There are a variety of exercises and activities that a person can try to keep his or her brain engaged, but one of the simplest is writing. 

The act of writing challenges the brain both on practical and creative levels.

On a practical level, writing calls upon one to work on how to spell, which grammar rules to follow and what order to place events and actions. 

On the creative level, writing calls upon one to sift through real or fictional events in order to determine what one wants to say and how to say it. 

Don't be afraid

Some people shy away from writing. 

“I'm not good at it,” they say, or “I don't have anything worth saying.” Neither of these should keep a person from writing in order to exercise his or her brain and help keep memory loss at bay. 

In the first place, most people are better writers than they think they are and have more interesting things to write about than may seem obvious to them. 

The point is not to create a piece of writing that will last through the ages but simply to get involved in the process. You are writing for yourself.

Remember, writing doesn’t have to mean attempting to create a novel. 

You can write whatever you want: a letter to a friend, a short fictional story, a memory from your childhood, a short scene between two people you know or two people you make up, or an entry in a diary. The idea is to write and get mental exercise.

 Get help if you need it

Ideally, you should find some way of doing the physical writing yourself: employing a pen or pencil, typing, or using a computer. 

Don't worry if no one else can read your handwriting or if your typing or computer skills are not top drawer.

Of course, some people have challenges, such as arthritis, that can prevent them from doing the physical act of writing. If that's the case for you, ask a friend or loved one to write down what you dictate. Another alternative is to use a tape recorder to record your thoughts. 

Video recorders are also wonderful tools to use.

 To share or not to share

If you want to share what you’ve written, that’s wonderful. 

If you want to keep it for yourself, that’s fine, too. One of the benefits of sharing is that it allows you to bond with those who read your work. 

If you are writing about your life or the lives of people you know, your work may also bring forth memories from those with whom you share your work.

What a treasure for the next generation and generations to follow, to have these life stories of their grandparents if  only preserved simply by writing them down. 

If we don’t have these kinds of memories written down or recorded, they can become lost history. The act of writing can help you to retrieve memories you may have forgotten or inspire others to share their memories. 

Perhaps equally important, it can be a fun way to pass the time.

Julie Ann Anderson is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park; mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.

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