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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Brain Exercise: A Puzzling Experience

When I was younger, I recall my grandmother sitting in her chair, pencil in hand, “working the puzzles.” I never inquired any further. I never asked what “the puzzles” were or why she even did them. All I ever asked as a kid was, “what are you doing?” She would respond, “working the puzzles.” My curiosity didn’t come until later in life. I went to visit my grandmother one day and noticed a stack of magazines that were folded to one specific page — the puzzle page. As I checked out the magazines, two things came to mind. First, I finally knew why my grandmother was so caught up with pop culture. She was reading The Star, a weekly publication specializing in celebrity fashion, news, gossip, and scandals! Second, she was still “working the puzzles”. But why? Was it just a hobby or a way to pass time? I finally asked her recently. Although she commented she did enjoy working the crossword puzzles, it was primarily exercise for her brain. “It keeps me thinking,” she said. So it made me think, “how does a crossword puzzle act as exercise for the brain?”

Crossword puzzles, quizzes, and games such as Scrabble, bridge, and chess are good mental aerobics, according to Good Housekeeping magazine (which is not a magazine that can be found in my grandmother’s house). I had to do a little digging on the internet for this information. I was impressed, however, that my grandmother didn’t do any research on how to improve memory or the benefits of exercising her brain — She simply worked the puzzles. The Alzheimer’s Association says that mental decline as we age appears to be largely due to altered connections among brain cells, but research has found that keeping the brain active seems to increase its vitality and may build its reserves of brain cells and connections. In some cases, it’s even possible to generate new brain cells. I can only assume my grandmother recognizes that by exercising her brain, she is able to remember experiences in her life and talk about them with others. She didn’t need to do any research, but obviously, some of us do. Crosswords, as well as many other activities, can help prevent the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Do the research, challenge yourself and bring on the crossword puzzles.

I relayed this information to my grandmother in a recent visit and even attempted to join her in “working the puzzles.” I’m not sure what issue of The Star or what number across or down, but we ran into an obstacle. “I am wracking my brain to figure this one out,” I said out loud. My grandmother responded, “It’s ok if you don’t finish the puzzle. I try to challenge myself, but doing the best I can has always been enough for me.” And it certainly has, as my grandmother just turned 80 and is as sharp as ever! We celebrated by “working a puzzle!” And by the way, if you are wondering if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are still together or if Lindsay Lohan is out of rehab, just ask my grandmother!

E.D. Barnett
Human Resources Manager

Chicago Senior Living
Assisted Living in Chicago

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