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Visiting the Hippocampus
Returning to school as a senior has grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the focus on subjects of interest to older adults and innovative ways to learn, such as The Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning. But there’s one campus that doesn’t consist of venerable halls of knowledge surrounded by leafy quads or students tossing a Frisbee — or, more likely these days, texting furiously. However, this campus may be covered with metaphorical “ivy”.
Welcome to the hippocampus. The hippocampus (which isn’t remotely related to a hippopotamus) is the part of the cerebral cortex that has to do with memory. And while attending classes or memorizing the spelling of hippopotamus can indeed help improve memory, there are a number of other steps seniors — and the reverse mortgage professionals who serve them — can take as well. And there’s a bonus: enhancing your hippocampus increases its size and weight. That’s what building muscle mass does. So a brain workout also means weight gain is good. It’s all in the mind!
Kidding aside, memory loss is a pretty serious issue: by 2050, when many people now in their thirties, forties and fifties will be old, more than 15 million Americans are projected to have some form of dementia. The hippocampus is the first area affected. There will likely not be sufficient people and resources available to care for that many people with mental impairment. So it makes sense to visit the hippocampus now.
The Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore, Maryland is a “cutting edge cognitive clinic” and an excellent place to train your brain, according to a recent article in AARP magazine.
The counsel for improving one’s brain is surprisingly similar to basic self-care recommendations:
- Sleep deep! If you chronically skimp on sleep, mental functioning is compromised and memory suffers. Burning the proverbial midnight oil to get an important project completed is one thing. Doing so habitually, just because you can, will take its toll on memory — but it can be reversed, just as physical training can regenerate muscles that have become flabby from lack of use.
- Exercise! Speaking of which: a psychologist at the University of Illinois persuaded a group of older adults to walk three times a week for 45 minutes each time. At the end of the yearlong study, the walkers “showed a substantial improvement on cognitive tests, [and their] brain scans displayed a two percent increase in hippocampus size.” These subjects were, in effect, reversing time. No magic pill needed. All that’s required is the commitment to go take a walk. Regularly.
- De-stress. Begin to meditate, play with pets or kids, revive your love of painting or the piano, whatever calls to you. Reducing the “fight or flight” response from chronic to occasional will do wonders for mental acuity — and memory.
- Take your brain to the gym. Staying mentally sharp builds memory. Many older people enjoy doing crossword puzzles for this reason. Learning any new skill, whether it’s studying Swahili or researching the family tree, helps convert temporary, short-term memory into long-term memory, as well as boost retrieval so you can access the memory when you want it.
Finally, let unimportant information drain away like yesterday’s to-do list. Reverse mortgage specialist Dick Diamond shared, “My mother once said the reason older people lose thoughts is that over the years, they collect so much trivial data the cup runneth over…That’s why they invented Post-it notes.”
Unlike college classes, the hippocampus isn’t interested in having you memorize dates and events that have no relevance to your life now. But if a reverse mortgage professional or a senior wants to access memories of long-ago events as well as recent ones well into old age, it’s prudent to care lovingly for your hippocampus all your life.