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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Thinking Hard about the Brain

I tend not to worry excessively. I tend not to dwell on the down side of every or even any situation. The exception might well be dementia, Alzheimer's, or just any sign that my brain might be deteriorating. When I was first starting Chemo, one of the things they warned me about was Chemo Brain and that freaked me out more than anything. You can put my body through a wringer but leave my brain alone. Of course that is a self-defeating attitude but not as uncommon as you might think.

If there is anything that has us baby boomers freaking out it is the possibility of literally losing our minds. It is the stuff of novels, movies, dire health reports and frantic efforts on the part of scientists around the world. And it is the stuff of snake oil salesmen. Anytime there is a big demographic group with money and a problem or worry there are people willing to take advantage.

Luminosity is the company responsible for those never-ending ads about how neuroscience says playing games, and, by implication, giving Luminosity big bucks to play those games will make your brain stronger and put off cognitive decline. Late in January, Luminosity agreed to pay the US Federal Trade Commission a two million dollar fine for misleading advertising. It seems the neuroscience wasn't quite as clear as the company's marketers wanted us to believe.

On the one hand, this confirmed my deep suspicions. If games were what made the brain tough and resilient there's Backgammon, Chess, Go, Mah-jong all freely available in real life and on-line and all in their own way deep challenges, so why would you have to shell out money to a Corporate Game Maestro simply because he claimed to have access to neuroscience? On the other hand I am not alone in hoping, desperately hoping, that there is something I can do, some trick I can employ, some MacGyver spin I can implement that might mean I am lowering the odds that I will succumb to my greatest fear. If Luminosity doesn't make the brain more supple, what will, what does?

Not being able to do something, anything, is the other big fear of Boomers. We are a generation that came to believe we could conquer any problem thrown our way. It is part of what makes us as a group seem so arrogant, makes us as a group seem smug. Of course it has never been true that we can conquer everything but that has never stopped us from believing we can, from insisting that we can. So, is it hopeless, is there nothing that can be done to forestall or evade Alzheimer's and its cohort of mental nightmares?

Actually there is a fair amount of interesting science and reassuring initiatives out there to make me at least more calm, if not 100% reassured. Scientists are learning about genes and their role in developing cognitive damage, drugs are in the works that seem to be able to reverse some if not all the effects of Alzheimer's, and money is pouring into a myriad of different ideas and research avenues. What's not certain is that any of this will pan out or that any of this will be easily available to most of us.

The good news is that I experienced not one bit of Chemo Brain. The bad news is that I can't stop playing Mah-jong.

1 comment:

  1. Have no fear, i adore Mahjong, aaaand i spent post- Christmas hearing a same-age say 'you're getting old, you're getting old'. So i got out n took some fotos