Do You Think You’re Losing It?

Notes on New Research in Cognition

Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.

The media pays a lot of attention to anything that has to do with memory, physical aging and mental decline and, while the headlines attract a lot of attention, they fail to note the other side of the coin; simple things that research has found to be very powerful in these areas.

As I did research for one of my books, It’s Not All in Your Head, I began to come across the research which indicates that those deadly plagues that we are being warned are growing in our brain and causing Alzheimer’s disease are much more common in even tissues in our arms. So plagues seem to be normal and, to my mind, there’s too much in the way of frightening information and far too little in terms of hopeful information.

For instance, one researcher told me that there is growing evidence that our memory can actually be improved by simply going swimming. She was doing research protocols on persons over the age of 70 and measuring their memory prior to the swimming protocol and then after it. Yes, there were all of the usual, conventional controls to ensure that it was not just a fluke of this group or this intervention. What she found was that memory did improve after swimming on a regular basis.

Not only is swimming something that can help retain or improve memory, but there is also evidence that learning anything new will help you to retain your current cognitive condition or improve it because you will grow new neurons or neuronal attachments. This is astonishing.

You may be thinking that you will have to take some rigorous educational course or something that will leave you feeling discouraged because you can’t master it. No, that’s not the case. How about juggling? There is research that has proven juggling to be a wonderful way to actually improve memory. Of course, learning a new language, a simple musical instrument or even computer programming are great ideas.

Did I say computer programming? Are you now jumping out of your seat thinking that I must be out of my mind? Let me assure you that just as computers seem to be machines of terror which can easily be conquered, programming can be a simpler affair.  Rather than go into great detail here, I will direct you to my Computer page ( on my website, where you’ll find a number of things which will enlighten you to the new possibilities of learning here. There is also a wonderful video made by Dr. Randy Pausch that I would encourage you to watch.  Unfortunately, Dr. Pausch, who was a dynamic pioneer in teaching children how to program, died prematurely as a result of an aggressive cancer. When you watch the video, I know you will be inspired by him.

You are probably a bit perplexed about the relationship between exercise and memory and I have to admit that that is to be expected. The research in this area, however, is pointing to the role of muscles in many more activities than just making it possible for us to move about. Muscles may actually be seen as some type of super gland which, when used regularly, promotes the production of substances which raise mood, decrease stress and also lower anxiety levels. In addition to that, they have this newfound role in the production of memory.

While I’m talking about new research, let me dispel one of those old tired chestnuts that when we are born, we have all of the nerve cells we will ever have and it’s just a question of them dying off gradually. Nonsense. We now know that not only can we produce new nerve cells, but that damaged nerve cells may be encouraged to re-grow. What they need is a bit of help in the direction in which they should grow or even the introduction of stem cells. This latter research will open areas that, at this time, are still unimaginable. Stay tuned.

The moral of my item here is that you can do things, don’t believe everything you read or hear in the media, and get busy helping yourself.

Dr. Farrell is a licensed clinical psychologist and writer with experience in the field of mental health as a practicing clinician, medical writer, researcher, educator and disability consultant.  Her website is


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