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You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but that does not mean that human beings are unable to learn new skills throughout their lifespan

The Science of Building New Nerve Connections

It was about 15 years ago that I started to come across the research which demonstrated the exciting discoveries of the new discipline of Neuroscience; the study of the structure and function of the nervous system.   When I was growing up I could never understand why employers tended to view people in their middle years as unsuitable for learning a new job.   The understanding of the growth of nerves throughout the lifespan started to reach my attention at the beginning of this century.   I was directed into a new lifestyle when I realised the growth of new nerve pathways are enhanced by both physical activity and cognitive challenges.

Some of my Challenges

Yes, I do sometimes at the age of 81 become frustrated when a new version of my favourite software comes out.   It is indeed a challenge for me to keep up to date with the necessary changes I need to negotiate in order to manage my own financial affairs.   And yes, it is hard work to remain fit enough to play tennis with people less than half my age.    However, I will share with you some of my routines which assist me in these endeavours.

Physical Fitness

It is only with hindsight that I realise that an accident on the tennis court thirty years ago has indirectly resulted in an enhanced level of physical fitness which is unusual for octogenarians!   In running for a ball which had some lethal backspin applied by my opponent, I lunged and fell on my right knee breaking my anterior cruciate ligament.    Being in my early 50’ at the time, the doctor was reluctant to offer me surgery.

Strenuous post-surgical exercise was necessary for the operation to be successful, and there was some doubt in the surgeon’s mind about my ability to pursue this challenging route.    Since that surgery, nearly 30 years ago, I have continued to ride the stationery bicycle at the local gym twice a week.   This ritual not only ensures that I have free membership of the gym, (offered by my medical aid because of my consistent use of the facility) but my ability to run around on the tennis court with women far younger than myself.

Cognitive Fitness

About 13 years ago I met Dana Stenova of the Czech School of Memory Training and Brain Jogging.   Amongst other things she taught me to remember the digits of phi up to 100 places 3.14159265358979323….…. https://www.piday.org/million/   as well as the 42 American Presidents https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_presidents_of_the_United_States.  I followed up this early training with researching various online skills as well as MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Learning) https://www.mooc.org/

In order to ensure exercise my attention span I have been practicing Mindsparke http://www.mindsparke.com/ for the past 10 years.   My intention is to perform a daily practice of 10 minutes.   Whilse this ambitious schedule is not always fulfilled, I do perform this task on a regular basis ensuring my nerve paths for concentration and attention are regularly exercised!   Another lovely exercise is offered on a daily basis by the New York Times: https://www.setgame.com/set/puzzle

Mindfulness and Meditation

Some time ago the merits of Mindfulness and Meditation started to appear regularly in the local presss.   When I heard how the esteemed monk Matthieu Ricard https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/    had meditated on Compassion whilst being scanned by an MRI machine, I was motivated to study Buddhism, and to practice Mindfulness on a daily basis.   Ricard who had thousands of hours of meditation under his belt allowed himself to be studied in one of the earliest scientific endeavours to quantify the effects of meditation on the working of the brain.   His compassion was so profound that the needle recording his activity ran out of space on the paper!

So now, the first thing I do when I wake in the morning is a 20 minutes meditation.   That is followed by a 10 minute walk with my dogs in the village where I live.

Croquet as a Game for Seniors

I was fortunate to discover the game of Croquet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Croquet  about four years ago, and now this pastime has proved to be a wonderful outlet for my energy and passion for the outdoors.    Not only does this sport get you out in the open and onto a beautiful green lawn:  it offers gentle physical exercise.  In addition it ensures you learn some mental strategy to enhance your cognitive skills, and gives the player an opportunity to socialise at the same time

In Conclusion

Maybe you would like to research some of the links I offer you to enhance your physical and cognitive well-being.    I do believe that my disciplined lifestyle has allowed me to maintain a level of fitness which would not have been possible without the effort I make to maintain a health enhancing routine.

 

 

 

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!