My brain required my total attention after a driver hit me broadside and my head hit the roof of the car. It was the type of concussion that takes months to repair. Seeing my brain out of the corner of my eye on a science fiction type of display the doctor was looking at was amazing. Hearing him say there was a blood clot they were watching was less thrilling. This all happened over forty years ago, but, like other blows to your heart or body, it left an imprint, along with stuttering and headaches for a couple of years.
As a second grader on the playground, I turned quickly and walked into a tennis net pole and after seeing stars and throwing up in the classroom and the doctor’s office, officially had my first concussion. Since I remember it well, including the common, ” Don’t let her sleep”, of the movies, my interest in my brain and the brains of all of my students seems to have always been with me.
One of the benefits of aging is that we have seen the progress of scientists and psychologists in understanding the brain and what and how some things actually work. Finally the public understands that teen age brains, especially the frontal lobe are not complete at the magic age of 18 and high school graduation. In working with first offender criminals for over a decade, the 20- year-old who acts as if he is 12 is a common occurence. Learning impulse control can be a long and windy road and starts and ends in the brain.
For us to gain any mastery of aging, and make it more than a relentless decline, we must take control of bringing out our brain for exercise…not just physical, but mental. Several of my friends have apps on their phones and play games— or games with other across the country on their I Pads. Others do a good old- fashioned, hands on, picture puzzle. There is always one going in my library branch and you can sit down for a bit and test your spacial acuity. Paint, draw, color, write, read, play cards, have intelligent conversations with people, so something will hydrate your prune brain. Learning something totally new, or a different approach, or even a new way to make brownies is plumping up the prune. Illness and medications start drying it out, so be diligent about the mental exercise even if the physical is out for a bit.
In teaching a class to divine the traits of an extraordinary elder, big questions are asked about recognizing your gifts, passions, and the purpose of your life. Just the ability to answer those questions will help neurons snap! Deep thinking and introspection should be a requirement for people who make it to 55 years old. Without the deep thinking and introspection there is no wisdom.
For the yogis who have tried to help us calm our monkey minds, flitting all over and never sitting still, thank you. Many of us use the excuse of fast processing speed in our brain, or that we are sooooo busy that there is no time to train, are obviously afraid of being wordless in stillness and slowing our body so we can feel the blood in our veins.
Old people have time now to get a balance between prune and monkey and use the brain we have left for something bigger than ourselves. I would hope that you would build time in your day to be mindful and pay attention to the big picture for the huge numbers of aging folks and how we can (and already do) impact our world.
When we were dealing with Alzheimer’s and my Mother, I kept seeing her brain as a chunk of swiss cheese. This was no disrespect, but I could imagine that the memory that had been there on a Tuesday morning and was gone by Wednesday afternoon, had slipped into a hole that was growing in the cheese.
How about we get rid of prune brain, monkey mind and swiss cheese any way we can?