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Perhaps you have seen the commercial on TV where a middle aged man runs into someone with whom he went to high school and cannot remember his name? It would seem that the gentleman needs to exercise his tired, old brain more, and the advertiser has just the hand-held video game system and software for the job. We see the forgetful old guy sitting in his favorite armchair with the video game in his hand, happily improving his brain and staving off senility. If only it were that easy and stress-free.
My oldest son owns this particular video game system and the software in the commercial. One dayhe handed me the device and suggested that I might enjoy taking the test that calculates my brain age. I have come to the conclusion that there is some past offense for which he will never forgive me and this was his way of making me pay for it.
The software in question was designed by some big time Japanese brain scientist who has studied the brain for many years and developed simple methods to calculate brain age and short exercises to give the brain a good work-out and assist in developing the prefrontal cortex. Evidently, that is the general area that we all need to be working on so that we don't end up with brains that are sluggish and out of shape. The brilliant scientist appears on the screen as a disembodied head that begins by telling you all about his career, research, and conclusions about how the brain works. He is a cute little guy wearing horn-rimmed glasses and flashing white teeth. He tells you right off that the optimal brain age is 20. I may be getting older, but I can still remember being 20 and I'm fairly certain I was an idiot.
Regardless of that fact, 20 seems to be the mental equivalent of being in physical peak condition, and the first thing the little dude has you do is take a test to establish your brain age. This test involves math, unscrambling words, and various little memory tests. No problem, right? Wrong. Numbers flash by you and what feels like lightning speed, letters whirl around in circles, and the memory tests give you about .02 milliseconds to commit anything to memory. You have to do all this by holding a tiny, little pointy stick in your hand and touching the correct answer or drawing or writing the correct thing on the screen. It's like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head while clog dancing and reciting the Gettysburg address all at the same time. At the end of this electronic mayhem, the little scientist comes back to tell you what your brain age is. Mine was 88. I was stunned with horror. 88? It is a wonder that I can walk and chew gum or dress myself! I felt like driving the little, plastic pointy thingy into my own heart.
Fortunately, before I my snail-like brain could send that particular command to my hand, the little scientist returned to reassure me that despite my near-coma mental state, I would have no problem reducing my brain age by doing his scientifically proven training contained in the software. I wanted to kiss his little head, but it probably would have messed up the screen. No way was I going to accept a brain age of 88! I needed some mental CPR and I needed it fast.
So I began my training. I should have accepted 88 and called it good. The training, which is supposed to be done every day and is tracked on a calendar, is stressful enough to make your brains pour out of your eye sockets. First of all, those of us who are "of and age" are not intimately familiar or comfortable with video game systems and how they operate, so we have to spend some considerable time learning to be relaxed with the system so you don't feel like someone plopped you into the cockpit of an F22 fighter jet and told you to go for a ride. Given that handicap, it's a wonder my brain age wasn't 188. After multiple failures, I finally got to the point where I could more or less operate the little video system without feeling as if I were holding a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse. Once I got the hang of the thing I was able to reduce my brain age to 55. I was considerably relieved with this score, but not by much. I was not trudging along with a brain age of 88, but I was hardly sprinting, either.
The daily training involves all sorts of mental exercises that make me grind my teeth; things like subtracting the same number progressively from numbers that pop up on the screen, making change, and unscrambling moving letters. Another exercise involves three people speaking a word simultaneously and you are given 5 chances to hear the voices and discern the separate words. I am mostly deaf in one ear and don't hear great out of the other one. This exercise drives me crazy. The little scientist pops up during the entire training, providing you with encouragement and giving you little tips about the brain. So far he has informed me that cooking, needlework, playing a musical instrument, origami, and doodling are good for my prefrontal cortex. He has told me that chopping food with a sharp knife is good for me, and thoughtfully suggested that I be careful to not chop off my fingers. He also mentioned that being quick to anger is a warning sign of diminishing brain functioning. I guess that it is a good thing that I changed my mind about throwing the video game out the window.
I am being quite diligent about exercising my brain with the little Japanese scientist head every day. I just have a couple of points to make. First of all, isn't it possible that I might not remember someone with whom I went to high school because that person was highly unmemorable? And one more thing; if I ever get the chance to meet the scientist who invented this software I'm challenging him to a duel. His brain may be more fit, but I'm pretty sure that I can take him two out of three falls. He looks a little overweight.
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