Q. What’s the best way to respond to a loved one who is having real memory difficulties?
A: You don’t want to be confrontational or argumentative. Often there’s a sense of panic on the part of the other person, who deep down fears becoming that way himself or herself. Simple correction, neutral correction to the memory lapse is best. Often it’s best not to say anything about the incident, unless it’s something really important.
Q. In addition to video games and brain teasers, what are some things you do to help your own brain health?
A. My work as a neurologist and my writing help me to keep mentally sharp. I don’t plan to retire from either of these activities. I eat well—with the occasional deviation, like frozen yogurt or especially good cake. I also see great value in exercise—mostly, I take long walks. And I follow my own advice about having a “magnificent obsession”—something not necessarily linked to your work about which you build up knowledge. My obsession is magic, which I enjoy because it incorporates surprise, concealment and mental expectation.
Q: What about attitude?
A: Most important, I try to maintain a state of equanimity. Stress is the biggest contributor to poor health, dementia and a premature death, I am convinced. I’ve reached a point in my life that I no longer have to prove anything to anybody other than myself. Such an attitude enhances achievement because it greatly reduces internal stress. Once you’re no longer afraid of failing, winning becomes all that much easier.
Jennifer S. Holland is senior staff writer at National Geographic magazine specializing in biological sciences and natural history.