Saturday, February 23, 2008

About the Brain

I have mentioned receiving a Nintendo DS Lite for Christmas. When Powerpuff was here last autumn, I was impressed with hers, so much so that the family bought me my very own for Christmas. The amazing little device can perform both rudimentary voice and character recognition, and I think that's pretty impressive.

On most days, I will play a game of Sudoku on the DS, and I find that I much prefer playing the game on the machine rather than on paper. Paper is messy, especially when I get to scratching out notations or changing my mind about an answer, but the DS makes it easy to erase neatly and keep myself well organized. And the box will tell me if I've made an error in real time, so I don't have to plod through the whole puzzle in order to find out that I've made a wrong turn. Mind you, the penalties are high for such a warning, for the DS assigns me a 20 minutes time penalty per incident. Sometimes, that's enough to more than double my time.

I have posted previously that careless errors are a bane, and that trend continues. Although I do find that I can now generally force myself to make fewer errors per game and sometimes none, there are still times when I say one thing in my head but enter the very opposite. Why that is, I'm not entirely certain, except to say that I am very poor at checking and proofing. Once I have something in my head, I tend to plunge ahead without further critical examination.

Although there exists a plethora of DS games, the only one that I personally play on the DS is Brain Age. In addition to Sudoku, there are training programs in Brain Age that are designed to stimulate one's prefrontal cortex and keep one's brain young — or perhaps less old. It can test the age of one's brain through three random tasks per test and then score the results by telling you that your brain is 24, 42 or whatever.

Currently, it informs me that my brain 37 years old. I have been scored lower (33 I think it was), but I confess to usually being pegged somewhere in my forties. While that's better than my actual age of 60, I don't fool myself into believing that my brain is 20 years younger than its true chronological age. No, that thing inside my noggin simply doesn't work as well as it did 20 years ago.

When I see younger people playing with Brain Age, I can't help but notice that they are quicker, especially when it comes to memory. One of the tests supplies us with a list of thirty random words, gives us two minutes to memorize them, and three minutes to list as many as we can. The best that I have done is 14 out of 30, but Thesha can easily recall more than 20. I also struggle with the other memory-type test when the DS flashes, and I do mean flashes, numbers in boxes in random order. I then must remember the order of boxes from lowest to highest. While I can usually remember sequences of four or five, I have trouble with six and anything beyond that is pretty well a toss.

The very easiest test for me is the syllable count. It's so easy for me that I can barely fathom why it's in the game at all or that it could not be easy for eveyone. It presents the player with some random phrase such as, A Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and the player must say 11. If s/he doesn't get it right, the DS will simply wait and wait until one does figure out the correct response. It scores on speed, and mine must be pretty fast in the this particular task because it scores me highly. It's very simple for me, and I assume that it must be so for everyone, but perhaps it isn't.

But I'm not terribly fast on any other test. I do well enough on arithmetic in terms of getting the correct answer, but DS doesn't ever rate me as being scorchingly speedy. Even when I feel like I'm going lickety-split, the DS disagrees and pegs me in the medium range. So, it's memory and speed that slow down as we age, or at least that's the case for me. While I can still process logically, it simply takes a little longer than it does for the kids.

It's new stuff that sinks in ever so slowly. My violin teacher notices it. As we discussed certain concepts during my last lesson, she mentioned that when she teaches something new to the kids, they tend to get it right away while the adults tend to stare blankly. And I have seen a similar thing with the daughters. When the A Team was visiting at Christmas, I could see how quickly their brains would fire when playing Cranium, for example. It was almost scary to see them flying ahead with a million possible answers while I was still trying to process exactly what was being demanded of me, never mind trying to think through to the elusive answer. Frankly, it was discouraging and frustrating at times. On the other hand, we played also Cranium with our similarly aged in-laws just recently, and we all seemed to process at about the same pace, and that comforted me somehow.

I'd be interested to hear what changes you notice as you age. Even if you are still much younger than I, you may already perceive some shifts. How do you feel about these changes: depressed, anxious, calm, indifferent, resigned?

Below: a typical night might very well see me wrapped in my blanket and playing Sudoku on my DS after I have tucked Cuppa in and read to her. If the stars align correctly, after playing I might turn out the light and curl up right there in my chair and drift off to sleep. Both the blanket and the Nintendo were Christmas presents, the blanket being picked out by Althegal. As you can see, it's quite unique, as is she. I think of her almost every time I see it or use it.


ChrisB said...

AC I love your blanket and I think I've said before I was hopeless on the couple of occasions I tried the 'brain age' on my daughter DS. I'm off to stay with her on March 1st for a week so I hope to get some practise in! I try and do a quick crossword everyday and I play along with quizzes on radio and TV. I just hate that I am getting so forgetful since I retired and that I have slowed down so much in the past year. It's almost like I've given my brain permission to reduce its function!

Ruth said...

The Geriatric Assessment Unit I work on specializes in cognitive testing and the changes seen with age are quite consistent. The normal range for someone who is 80 is considerably lower in things like short term memory and word finding that it is for someone who is 30. But we do have some 90+ year olds who ace the tests. Keep working on the Sudokus and keep your blood pressure in the low normal range to protect your brain.

Simply Coll said...

It is the memory thing (or lack there of) that I personally tend to notice and worry about. I think it was Bette Davis who said, "getting old is not for sissies". How true, how true.

Love your blanket!

Lorna said...

My gentle hints, my wishlist and my shameless pleading notwithstanding, I did not get a DS Lite for Christmas. I guess I can go mascaraless for a while and buy myself one.