More importantly, can you train a brain with brain fog?
I asked myself this question a short while back when I got tired of the relative uselessness of mine, and the subject of training new neural pathways to replace those that are dying as I get older came up in my Science News. Or something else I read. Can’t remember.
The point is that I have lived with CFS for over twenty years, one of the worst features of which is mercifully called ‘brain fog,’ as if it were a gentle cloud that might lift with the rising sun.
Basically, it means my brain doesn’t work anything like it used to when I was young and smart and quick, so very quick with the opinions and the decisions (and expressing them: my tongue was legendary). The brain dysfunction has gotten a bit better – some healing? learning to cope? – but the brain is still maddeningly erratic.
Now add aging (better than the other option) to the mix, and the ‘edad de los nuncas’ (the age of the nevers: ‘I never used to…’ lose my keys, forget an actor’s name, have trouble remembering 7 x 8 = 56…), and the unreliable brain was starting to get downright scary.
The kiddies have flown the nest. More or less completely. I have time for myself. I write. And I decided to take Lumosity.com up on its offer of a few days of free brain training with their little games. And then I decided I should extend the free offer into a month. And then – hey, I’m having some fun here – I signed up for a year.
A year should be enough time to evaluate what they never answered: is there any proof that brain training can help people with CFS cope better? And do they have a bunch of people with CFS who have gotten significantly ‘better’?
So, instead of playing my current craze – Sudoku – for hours sometimes, telling myself that at least it is exercising some part of my brain – I am spending time playing Lumosity games.
As with my mantra – if it hurts my brain, it must be good for it – the games hurt.
I could call it a good hurt. It is a challenge, and the potential for improving in their areas (speed, attention, memory, flexibility, and problem solving – see, I remembered all 5 without having to go look it up!) is there.
My BPI (brain performance index) has increased since I started. This is not necessarily a good indicator of actual brain gains because some improvement comes from familiarity, and some from scamming the games (more on that in a later post).
I would have thought that performance – like IQ and your results on the SAT or the GRE – would be a constant. Maybe it is, in the sense of an upper bound: i.e., you can get this BPI when you are at your best, so don’t go doing your daily brain training (after which they calculate your current BPI) unless you are in prime physical and mental shape for the day. Much as is recommended for taking the SAT: make sure your kid has a good night’s rest, a good breakfast, fresh batteries…
But mine varies. A lot. As my brain does. My score on a particular game correlates somewhat with my self-assessed mental and physical condition. Only somewhat, though: I have played a game in a condition of total brain fog, exhausted, and somehow found the zone which achieves a Personal Best score. Not often, but often enough not to be surprised when it happens.
At which point I use the relative indication of a functioning brain in a weird mode to make the decision to go to bed (usually my hardest decision of the day).
Don’t know yet whether there is a gradual actual real improvement to my brain, an upward trend to a higher plateau. That would be lovely: my current plateaus tend to be at the level of the Dead Sea.
Don’t know yet if my CFS-addled brain will come back toward normal – whatever that means.
Don’t know whether it will help with remembering Shemar Moore’s name OR his character’s name on Criminal Minds (which eludes me at the moment).
But it is an organized attempt, with research behind it, to build new neural connections, to improve a mind, and I am hoping it will at least stave off some of the decline I sense and fear.
The only problem: you have to keep doing it. Forever. Right now their games have the shiny attraction of the new. They may continue adding games. And my brain keeps trying to strategize to optimize my performance on the obvious requirements of each. But I’m not sure if I will want to keep it up when I’m 90.
Too bad, like all efforts at self-improvement, you can’t do a controlled experiment and do it both ways before deciding. The results are pretty much like every other crapshoot in life: you takes your chances, you gets your consequences.
But I would really regret not trying.