Use it or lose it

February 18, 2009

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Studies have shown that keeping mentally active can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. The best way to accomplish this is to adapt a lifestyle of learning. How do we do this? I’ll show you what I have done. Hopefully you can springboard from these ideas to other ideas that may work for you.


There are a lot of activities that can be fun and also give your brain a workout. I have developed an addiction to the Facebook game of Wordscraper, which is a derivation of Scrabble (the developers of the game were sued by Hasbro, and a settlement was reached). I play 10-15 games at any one time (it is turn-based, and games usually take several days to complete). In addition to giving my brain a workout as I attempt to figure out the best word to play in a situation, I learn new words from the other players.

Around the lunch table at work one day, four of us were talking about how much we enjoy playing Trivial Pursuit, but that we were unable to find people to play against. Shortly afterward, I brought a game into the office, and we started playing games during lunch (keeping track of the game’s status with sticky notes). The players have varying strengths and weakness, and there are occasional sidebar discussions that can be quite entertaining and educational.

For about a decade, I have played in fantasy baseball leagues. Baseball, in particular, lends itself to lessons learned from economics – particularly maximization of utility. Do you take guy with a lot of stolen bases and sacrifice home runs? Do you ignore saves and focus on the other categories? The successful players have to make difficult decisions during the course of a season.

Try some new magazines

For about a decade, I have subscribed to two types of magazines – sports magazines and computer magazines. I have a variety of interests outside these two areas, so I decided to subscribe to some other magazines in order to expand my horizons.

After a bit of browsing at Barnes and Noble, I decided to subscribe to Popular Science and Archaeology.

Popular Science made a lot of sense, because it’s full of cutting edge science (such as a man soaring across the English channel on a jet pack). Although I don’t have an academic background in science, it has always interested me. For years, I tormented people with my idea of wireless electricity (imagine all the clutter that could be eliminated by getting rid of cords). On the day that MIT researches announced that such a beast existed (which they call WiTricity), I got about a half dozen emails from friends, with the basic message of “hey, you’re not crazy after all”.

I’ve always had a slight interest in archaeology, but the fiction books co-written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have ignited it into a larger interest. Some of Preston and Child’s books are based in the southwest, which is a hotbed of archaeological activity. Archaeology (the magazine) covers a lot of different topics within the science of archaeology. The stories of tomb raiders and other thieves hold the most interest for me, but I find myself reading most of the other articles as well.


Not only can writing be a cathartic release, but it also forces you to organize your ideas into coherent thoughts (although this might not be apparent from my own writing). You can write for public consumption (this blog, for example) or simply write in a journal.


Reading, of course, is the old standby when it comes to mixing entertainment and education. Find a subject you like, and start reading again. I love mysteries, which add another dimension of learning, as I’m always trying to figure out the mystery before I get to the end of the book. If you can’t make the time to read, consider audio books. Audio books have the added benefit of making the commute a bit less monotonous. has a great selection of classic books available in electronic format at no cost (although they do accept donations).

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. M.M.E.
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 17:17:00

    Alzheimer’s runs in my family so for the last year and a half my mother has been slipping curry spice into my dad’s meals. According to a recent study, there are few cases of Alzheimer’s in India, where curry and other spices abound. Personally, I prefer crossword puzzles, but curry is good.


  2. The Casual Observer
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 23:02:00

    That’s really interesting. I actually have quite a few Indian friends. I’ll have to ask them about this.


  3. The Casual Observer
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 14:43:00

    I looked into this a bit – it seems that it is the spice turmeric – which is used in curry – that has been the subject of several studies. I haven’t found anything that seems that state this as an absolute fact, but it sounds like the early evidence definitely suggest that turmeric reduces the presence of amyloid in the brain – amyloid is what causes Alzheimer’s.


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