Monday, September 26, 2016

Striving to Keep My Wits

by Bruce Carroll

Let’s face it; none of us is getting any younger. Last year I turned fifty.

As we grow older, memory becomes a more and more tenuous thing. This is not news for anyone who is leaving middle age behind. More alarming than simple forgetfulness is dementia. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s claim the memories – and eventually the very souls – of their victims.

Being – shall I say, more mature? –  I began reading about neuroplasticity, a phenomenon that has been studied extensively only in the past decade or so. Scientists have discovered that the human brain is much more malleable than was previously thought. This malleability is called “neuroplasticity.”

Our brains change throughout our lives, and researchers have discovered it is possible to guide those changes. It is even possible to stave off age-related memory loss and dementia. One easy and effective way to do this is by learning something new as one grows older. A person could choose to learn anything: how to play a musical instrument, how to rebuild a car engine, how to cook, even how to write and speak a different language.

About the same time I was learning about brains and how to keep memory loss at bay, I read How to Learn Any Language in a Few Months While Enjoying Yourself by award-winning author Nate Nicholson. The techniques Mr. Nicholson offered seemed straightforward and effective. If I were going to learn anything, I decided, I would learn a language. After all, language is used to express every aspect of our lives. What could be more effective for brain development?

Once I had decided to learn a language, I had to choose which one to learn. There are many Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. Perhaps I should learn Spanish? But my exposure to Spanish had been rather limited. I had studied French formally throughout school. Maybe French was a better choice? (Funny how little of it I could remember after all these years.) I had also studied Japanese informally in college. Ah, Japan – there was a culture very different from my own!

I hadn’t yet decided on a language when I happened to be watching an interview with the Japanese Idol group Babymetal. (Yes, I am a fan – kitsune up!) The trio spoke only in Japanese. There were English subtitles, but I remembered enough Japanese that I questioned the translation I was reading. Was that really what they were saying?

After I watched the video, I read some of the comments people had left. There among them I found an extremely racist remark against the Japanese people. Somehow that brought me to choose Japanese as my second language.

Since then, I’ve begun learning (or relearning) French, too. Spanish is next on my short list.

What about you? What do you do to keep your brain healthy? Let me know in the comments.

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