If you are concerned about cognitive aging - whether you think you’re noticing signs or you're just wondering what the future holds - how will you know? Physical and mental aging is such a slow process that changes can be imperceptible to the person experiencing them. By the time you display obvious symptoms, you may have lost ground unnecessarily that’s hard to regain.

In the previous article, I discussed specific changes in the aging brain and how exercise can slow the process of cognitive aging. Now we’ll add recommendations for cognitive assessment (testing) and agility training for your brain to help keep it fit and flexible.

We will look at ways to assess and support processing speed, memory, attention, and balance. Did you know that improving your balance can also improve your memory and spatial cognition? (1)

 

Best Test for Cognitive Function:

An objective assessment provides information that can help put you at ease and target areas for improvement. When it comes to neurocognitive testing, CNS Vital Signs  provides the most comprehensive and user-friendly experience.

Their 45-minute test - which you can do on your laptop at home - evaluates processing speed, mental flexibility, and executive function, verbal memory, visual memory, motor speed and control, as well as sustained attention and reaction time.

It includes twelve different tests which provide information on these specific areas and combines them to assess patterns that may indicate particular pathologies (e.g., Alzheimer's) and the severity of decline.

Wherever you are on the curve, this first test creates a baseline, suggests a strategy for therapy, and allows you to assess progress over time.

 

There are plenty of free tests and suggestions available online like these from MyBrainTest. DIY tests like the Clock Test which - if you fail - simply indicates that you need help… now. Then there's the SAGE test you can take on your own, and results are sent to your physician to interpret, not necessarily to a specialist.

 

As part of my research, I thought I’d try a few of these tests. I had some trepidation because who - at 61 - isn’t a little worried? So I went to the BrainTest site and tried a few for memory and processing speed. I did not do well. I quit in the middle. It gave me no feedback except to say that my processing speed was slow. The experience left me feeling anxious and uninformed.

In contrast, while the CNS test was challenging, it was well-paced. Clear written instructions were given and practice sessions were provided. I was in control, and I was able to indicate when I was ready to move on to the next section. I felt relaxed, and I know this improved my results. 

I also know there is a sophisticated reporting system, and the report will be sent to someone I know and trust to interpret who will help me create a plan to support this aging brain.

 

3 Best Tools for the Aging Brain:

The brain requires challenge and stimulation for optimal function and longevity. Stimulation, including balance challenge (2) is its nourishment. So how do we provide the brain with high-quality targeted “foods” to keep it in peak form as we age?

Yes, it's good to do brain puzzles, learn a new instrument or language, take up knitting, darts, or line-dancing. But what - precisely - does your brain need for balance and mental agility? With CNS and other tests, we have the answers. With targeted exercises using the following tools, we have an ongoing objective assessment of our improvement.

 

Interactive Metronome:

Dr. Austin’s short video shows you how it works. It measures and develops hand-eye-foot coordination and brain timing.  The IM requires you to integrate visual and auditory stimuli and respond with physical action. Software manipulates speed and image placement on the screen, so it’s always new and challenging. It allows you to make immediate corrections and improve your timing on the spot. You’ll actually experience yourself getting better with the IM’s instant feedback.

This is not a challenge I would choose for myself. I’d rather learn a new line dance. But since new and unpredictable is more nourishing for the brain, I’m going to give it a try. 

The Interactive Metronome can increase your ability to concentrate and focus, improve processing speed and capacity for multitasking. When we add the foot pedal, it’s a balance exercise too! Engaging the body and brain together is the most effective way to improve cognitive function. The IM does just that!

 

NSI:

The Neuro Sensorimotor Integrator provides similar and even more sophisticated and targeted agility training for the brain. Played on a touch-sensitive large screen, it challenges the subject to input, interpret and respond. Watch the NSI in action.

Modules are chosen for you based on the findings of your CNS exam. Dr. Austin programs the NSI to target pathways and parts of the brain he wants to either excite (strengthen) or inhibit (keep from working so hard).

Our brains have habitual pathways, strengths, and weaknesses. As we age, if we do not change things up, we lose the ability and inclination to forge new electrical firing patterns. We are increasingly stuck with our old imbalances.  NSI helps keep the brain nimble and responsive.

 

Focus Builder App:

Dr. Austin often recommends the Focus Builder app that you can download to use at home. Exercises direct users to move their eyes in various patterns, speeds, and directions. Each type of movement activates a specific part of the brain.  When you exercise weaker or less efficient eye muscles, you strengthen corresponding brain parts associated with cognitive, memory, or motor function.

 

We’re here to Help

We can’t all be expert at everything. Maybe this is something we learn and accept as we age: we need each other’s help and guidance. Dr. Austin is a passionate brain coach. With his help, you can make the most of what you’ve got to work with and derive the biggest benefits for your efforts. He will explain your starting point, craft a path, and be there to keep you on track toward healthy aging.  He will assess and modify when necessary, and he’ll be there to cheer you on.

We all want to stay sharp, vital and engaged as we age. We want to have balance and strength to enjoy those exercises we’re supposed to be doing. The three pillars of healthy aging are:

I Exercise your brain

II Exercise your body 

III Care for them both by minimizing inflammation in all your tissues.

In the final article of this series, you'll learn how inflammation in the brain accelerates cognitive aging and puts one at risk for complications like dementia. Join me next time as we discuss caring for your brain with proper nutrition.