Alert
Close

Take AARP’s Smart Driver course and you could save money on your car insurance. Learn more

HIGHLIGHTS

Open

Contests and
Sweeps

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 

Learning Centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.

Arthritis

Heart Disease

Diabetes

Most Popular Articles

Viewed

Powers of Concentration: Workouts for Your Brain

Computer programs for brain fitness can improve your memory and sharpness by stimulating the brain through problem solving and sensory processing.

When presented with my idea for exercising his brain, my dad balked. "My brain is already exercised to its capacity," he e-mailed me, "as one of a unique group of patriotic writers spending all their time and money to try to motivate their fellow citizens." But then I bought him a computer upgrade and promised to buy myself the complete works of his favorite free-market economist if he'd go along, and he agreed.

The program was easy for each of us to set up. I wore headphones and concentrated on the screen while cartoon doctors with calming voices prepared me for what was coming. Then the real work began; it was harder than I expected.

There were six exercises. One called High or Low played tones that rise or fall, and I had to describe what I heard by clicking on an "up" or "down" button. It got harder as the sounds became shorter and closer together. The Match It exercise is like the old game show Concentration, except the objective is to match sounds rather than images. During Tell Us Apart, an exercise in distinguishing similar syllables, I found it almost impossible to differentiate "shee" from "chee" and caught myself crankily blaming my hearing problems on the speaker.

Later I remembered something Henry Mahncke, a vice president at Posit Science, had told me: "As a person ages, it gets harder to process sensory input quickly. It's as if your brain is a radio that is getting rising levels of static. If you don't correct the tuning, you will understand less of what you see and hear."

So I bore down, and after a few more sessions something interesting happened. While walking home one evening, I realized I hadn't had a mid-afternoon slump. I'd stayed focused and productive the entire day. Maybe the hard work was paying off.

And my dad? At first blaming the six dogs he tends for his inability to concentrate, he wrote that the program "requires concentration that is too broken up here to provide unless the Lord provides help." And after I reported my improvement and inquired whether he, too, noticed anything, he replied, "I can speak Lithuanian now, and I'm slightly congested."

Despite the sarcasm, there was headway. At the end of each session, the computer sent our results to Posit Science for evaluation, and after our 40 sessions, my dad and I conferred with Mahncke by phone. "Tom made nice steady progress through the High or Low exercise," Mahncke said. "At the end, he was processing about 85 percent faster than he was at the beginning." He had also improved his ability to recall a story accurately and to follow a series of instructions.

Tom agreed that in fact he could feel a change. For one thing, he wasn't falling asleep as much. My mom confirmed that he had indeed gotten more energetic and talkative—although, she added, this was not necessarily a good thing. As for me, Mahncke said, my results were typical for people in their late 40s, who often find the material easier than older exercisers. (I didn't tell him about my cranky days.)

Clearly, the Brain Fitness Program had been good for my dad and for me. For one thing, we were talking more often, and he was telling me more about how he was feeling—which made me feel better.

Brad Edmondson is a vice president of ePodunk.com, which profiles U.S. towns.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Woman trying on glasses in optometrists shop

Members save up to 60% on eye exams and 30% on glasses at JCPenney Optical.

Prescription medication spilling out of bottle

Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.

AngiesList

Members can save 25% to 45% on their Angie's List membership.

Caregiving walking

Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.