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As I was about to enter the eighth decade of my life, I was constantly hearing from my friends about their memory loss. Or, about their confusion when navigating familiar parts of their home town, or their difficulty in maintaining concentration on everyday tasks. However, it had not occurred to me there was a recognised field of training for people who wished to assist others in slowing down this cognitive decline.

A Chance Encounter

During my daily exploration of the internet, in February 2006, I came upon an international newsletter from the University of the Third Age. There was a seemingly innocuous phrase in this newsletter which piqued my interest. It said, “Dana lives in Prague, and she is a live-wire.” I would certainly like to meet a live-wire during my anticipated trip to Prague in a couple of months. My son was due to be married in Amsterdam, and my daughter and I planned to visit Prague after the wedding.

I double-clicked on the relevant email address and composed a quick email to Dana. The message read, “I am planning to visit Prague in July and would love to meet you and take you out for a cup of coffee,”

A Live-Wire indeed

Within the next 24 hours, I received a response from Dana. Unfortunately, she would not be in Prague in July, as she was to be in Turkey facilitating a Memory Training Course for members of the University of the Third Age who live in the United Kingdom. “But,’ she said, ‘You are welcome to stay together with your daughter in my flat when you are here.”

The Concept of Memory Training

I was excited to accept her offer of hospitality and enjoy her well-equipped residence while visiting the capital of the Czech Republic. In addition, I wished to know more about the course she offered in Memory Training. It took merely a couple of emails, and a few days to arrange that Dana would travel to Cape Town to offer a three-day course in Memory Training. So in June 2007, 200 members of the University of the Third Age in South Africa had the opportunity to attend this course.

Her course was stimulating, engaging and a great eye opener to all who attended. ‘But,’ I asked her, ‘what is going to happen now you are going back to Prague? Please give me some ideas on how I can continue the momentum you have built up.’ ‘If you want to continue my work,’ she responded, ‘then you must come to my week-long course in Prague next February. I will then be running a training course in English under the auspices of the Czech Society for Memory Training and Brain Jogging.’

International Training

So, for the second time in under a year, I was destined to visit Prague. This time it was in the middle of winter, whereas the first time it was a summer encounter. Quite a contrast, but Prague is a beautiful city at any time of the year. Now I had the opportunity to join students from Scotland, America and Tasmania who were also interested in memory training. By the week’s end, I was tested on my ability to recite the 43 American Presidents from memory. Additionally, I could recite the memorised decimals of pi to 100 digits.

‘But what is this Memory Training all about?’ you may ask. ‘And who wants to know the American Presidents off by heart?’ ‘And, I am not interested in pi,’ I can hear you saying to yourself. Your reaction would be the same as the majority of people when they first hear about these exercises. When you engage in the course, you grow to understand the significance of the use of mnemonics as a tool for assisting the memory. Mnemonics is a powerful associative tool giving the learner the capacity to memorise long lists of both numbers and facts.

Sharing my New Skills

When I returned to Cape Town I wasted no time in gathering together a small group of people to share my new insights and trainings. I researched further areas for maintaining our cognitive faculties, and as time has progressed, I have incorporated additional skills into my training program.

Realising that memory training and the building of a cognitive reserve is intimately connected with emotional control, a study of emotional resilience and motivation have become part of my teachings. Recently Mindfulness and Meditation are being rapidly embraced within Western society, so the understanding, practice and appreciation of these concepts have also become part of the range of skills we embrace in our non-directive facilitations.

Maintenance Skills

When we are at school and university, and subsequently in a work situation, we are called upon on a daily basis to exercise our mind. To stretch our intellectual faculties. To absorb new pieces of information. However, during the time of retirement, these external factors no longer form an integral part of our daily life, and the temptation to live a semi-indolent existence is ever-present. However, the trouble is that if we do not use it, we lose it. This expression applies to our mental abilities, in the same way as it applies to our physical abilities. If we are to retain our optimal level of functioning, slow down memory loss and maintain our perceptual faculties we need to adopt some daily routines into our lifestyle. To preserve our manual dexterity, sustain our balancing abilities and maintain our muscle tone, these skills have to be exercised in a consistent and stimulating manner.

Role of Blogging

And, perhaps the best way of all to retain one’s cognitive reserve is in the discipline of blogging. The weekly effort to draw insights from my experiences has become an effortful way of exercising concentration. It ensuring my creative skills do not become dormant. If you do not wish to blog, then daily journaling is a recognised pursuit for those who wish to practice their cognitive skills and ensure their faculties remain intact.

I had a new experience today.    Sarah McKay teaches online courses about Neuroscience.   As a past student I was invited to a zoom meeting to share my experiences in applying her teachings in the work environment..

In these an online courses Sarah teaches coaches the basic neurological principles behind behaviour change.   Once the students have acquired this knowledge, the coaches are empowered to motivate their clients by sharing with them the underlying psychological and neurological principles of behaviour change.   You can read about the course here

What is a Zoom Meeting

I am not going to presume that all my readers are familiar with what a zoom meeting is all about.   Those of you who are familiar with the concept and the experience can skip the next paragraph!

A Zoom meeting  is held on the internet.   The initiator invites participants to join the meeting by sending an online email link together with the date and time of the proposed gathering.   If recipients wish to join the meeting, they do not need to reply, they merely note the time and date and log in at the appropriate instant.   Meetings can be held with just two people, or with scores of participants.

Today’s Meeting

It was 8 o’clock in the morning for me in South Africa.   For Sarah in Australia, it was just getting dark.  Online were two women from Belgium, which is more or less my time zone!

Contributions from Belguim

One of the ladies from Belgium was a teacher trying to revolutionise the conservative schooling system in Brussels.   When I heard about her ambitions and her progressive ideas, I was able to suggest that she takes a look at Ken Robinson’s TED talk.   Here is a brilliant presentation by Ken on bringing creativity into the school curriculum.   It has had over 3 million views:

Ingrid lives in Belgium.  She spoke about the work she does with Ear Acupuncture and the healing of emotional trauma.   She told us how she applied needles in the ear, which enables her to help her patients reduce anger, anxiety and trauma.

Amrish from India

Amrith from India was the next person to introduce himself when he came online during his lunch break.   He had completed Sarah’s course many years ago but still remained in touch with the teacher who had enriched his practice of alternative therapy.   He was impressive in describing the relief he had given to his clients who suffered from both physical and emotional challenges.

Grace from South Africa

Of course, I was also given the opportunity to share my shenanigans with the assembled participants in the Zoom Room.   I recounted my experiences with facilitating Couscous Ageing for Seniors.   In these 2 hour discussion groups, participants are made aware of the neurological background of the ageing process.  This knowledge and understanding help them devise a methodology for maintaining and building their cognitive reserve.   The non-negotiable importance of the maintenance of  physical fitness is emphasised.  In addition, techniques for building emotional resilience form a large part of the discussion.

Sarah’s Contribution

Sarah shared with us some of her accumulated wisdom.   She had been participating in an Australian TV program in which Octogenarians and Nonagenarians were being interviewed.   This series aimed to glean information about successful ageing.   Emerging from her experience with this group, Sarah suggested that a mind of curiosity may be the critical quality that helps those in the latter decades of their life remain involved and committed in the ever changing contemporary environment.

Striking a receptive chord.

I agreed with her hypothesis.   I have always taken pride in my belief that curiosity is one of my positive characteristics.    Sarah jogged my memory when she made this comment.

Photocopying was the latest in technology then

I recalled the era when photocopying machines first arrived.   I had taken my notes to a photocopy shop to have the minutes of the school committee meeting printed for the attendees, and I wondered, why does the assistant not ask me what my material is all about.    Is he not interested in what I am copying? My curious mind would continue, “If I were an assistant doing his job, I would want to know what is written on the page as well as the reason the customer needing this material.”

I had never seen a computer screen

Another early memory popped into my mind.   I recalled going to reserve a long distance bus ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg.   It was at the time when businesses were just starting to use computers to enhance their services.  My curiosity was aroused.  I wanted to view the screen.  However, all I could see was the back of the monitor. I had never even had sight of a computer screen and could only imagine what the assistant was viewing.   I can still sense my frustration, my curiosity was not satisfied.   I could not have sight of the screen.

Where is my curiosity taking me?

You may consider the above examples somewhat trivial.   But I am curious, and that is why I am starting to explore the methodology of sharing my accumulated knowledge and life experiences with online learners.

The latest initiative

I am planning to complement the face to face monthly meetings I have been running for the past 12 years, with some opportunities offered by current technology in the form of online tuition and zoom meetings!  I plan to offer guidance and advice to those in the middle years about a lifestyle which will allow them to build cognitive reserve, maintain their physical fitness and develop their resilience for coping with the emotional challenges of their life.

I need your help!

Anyone who is reading this blog and has an idea what they might like to learn within my area of expertise is welcome to place suggestions in the Comment Box.    I would love to hear from you!