BETTY WATERS, email@example.com
No matter someone’s age, Dr. Joe Bates, of Tyler, says thinking, reasoning, memory and decision-making can improve through “brain cardio,” a workout for the brain similar to a workout at the gym for the body.
The good part of exercising and challenging the brain is that thinking smarter is not the only outcome, Bates said.
He has seen these side effects: it gives people energy, improved self image, a new focus in life, hope for the future and more interest in things that formerly were fun for them that they’ve given up because they thought they couldn’t do it anymore.
Bates titled his first book “Making Your Brain Hum 12 Weeks To A Smarter You” because he likes the mental image of the brain being like a well oiled machine working like it is supposed to or a finely tuned car cruising the road.
“It is a fun book for mental stimulation,” Bates said. “The purpose of the book is to help seniors learn and understand that learning can continue throughout life and it can be fun for them.” However, the program outlined in his book can be used by anyone as young as 9.
Bates will talk about fun ways for learning and maintaining mental agility that are detailed in his book when he speaks during a free program 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 22 in the Rose Room, Tyler Rose Garden Center, sponsored by Tyler Senior Center and the City of Tyler.
There will be refreshments and Bates will sign his book. “We are offering his book at a discount,” said Kay Odom, senior center supervisor.
“I am going to tell (attendees) it is never too old to learn. We can learn throughout life and having a dream does not have an age restriction on it either,” Bates said.
“There have been some late bloomers in the past and I hope there will be a lot more late bloomers,” Bates said.
Bates cited as examples Grandma Moses, who started painting at age 78 and became world famous, and Colonel Sanders, who at age 66 founded the Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food restaurant chain.
Bates said he will also tell attendees about something they may not know that will help them continue to learn - the ability of the brain to repair damaged circuits and also to make new cells. It is called neuroplasticity and was discovered in the 1990s.
“When I was in medical school many years ago, we were told that the number of brain cells we were born with was our quota for our lifetime. Fortunately that has been disproved,” Bates said.
“We all have new brain cells being formed in certain areas. We also are able to repair some circuits that are damaged and compensate from damage in certain areas,” he said.
The recovery of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, of Arizona, after a shooting in 2011 is an example of that, Bates said.
Bates voiced hope that people will use in a positive what is now known that there are new brain cells being created all the time in certain areas and that there are brain circuits that can be repaired.
People can take advantage of new cells by exercising the brain and improving brain functioning, Bates said. In a negative way, people can bombard the brain with alcohol and drugs or negative thoughts. Or thirdly, they can do nothing, in which case their brain functioning with either stay the same or decline, Bates said.
Bates spent about two years researching materials and resources for his book. He was motivated to undertake the project when he wanted to improve his own cognitive functioning in order to take the test to join Mensa, the international high IQ society.
His book won the annual Mensa Intellectual Benefits to Society Award given in 2015 by the Mensa Foundation.
Bates is a board-certified psychiatrist and pediatrician who recently retired as clinical director at Rusk State Hospital. He is currently a psychiatrist for the Tyler VA Clinic.
His book contains over 500 exercises that are brain teasers - word problems, picture puzzles, listening problems, games, mental arithmetic and other ways to stimulate brain functioning and concentration and to improve someone’s ability to reason and make decisions, Bates said.
He encourages people to try working out the brain, simply called brain cardio, but technically known as CRT, an acronym for cognitive remediation training, because it revitalizes the brain and thinking.
The training prescribed in his book falls into 12 categories. Each category has a basic elementary and junior high level and an advanced high school and college level. “Nothing is outrageously hard,” Bates said.
For example, the Odd Man Out exercise has four pictures, three of which may have a connection but someone is supposed to pick the picture that does not belong in the group.
“I recommend (brain cardio) 45 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks, but someone could do it 20 or 30 minutes fives times a week as long as they cover a category in a week,” Bates said. He also recommends waiting three to six months before doing it again.
A National Institute of Health study involved 2,800 senior citizens around the country who underwent similar training. It found 1,400 who had the training maintained significant improvement in their functioning that continued when rechecked in five years and 10 years after the training, Bates said. The other 1,400 who did not receive the training stayed the same in their brain functioning or declined.
Bates cautioned that there are a lot of vendors, companies, online computer games, programs and people trying to target seniors with supplements to make them smarter. People should choose a proven approach, Bates advised.
“I want people to know they can continue to make progress if they choose to. I just want them to be careful and don’t buy something that is a quick fix,” he said, noting one of the biggest vendors had to pay a $2 million fine for making unsubstantiated claims.