Brain Exercise and Parkinson’s

Did you exercise your brain today? What is something new you learned today? Up to 50% of people who have Parkinson’s disease will have some cognition change. Being slower in mental processing, having trouble multi-tasking and being forgetful are a few examples of this non-motor symptom.

Mark Mapstone, PhD of University of California Irvine spoke at the Davis Finney Victory Summit on August 10 on Cognitive Challenges –What to do About Them. He emphasized the value of mental activity as a brain fitness strategy.  When the brain is exercised, the rate of new neurons being created is accelerated. Additionally, the connection between neurons is strengthened. Leisure activity involving mental effort decreases the risk for dementia.

Brain Exercise

A good brain exercise depends on its novelty, variety, and challenge. According to Michael Merzenich PhD who has studied brain plasticity for over thirty years, the brain exercise we do must also be important, meaningful or interesting to us. Otherwise new neurons will not be created.

Dr. Mapstone advocates the idea of “learning something new every day.”  Some examples include:

  • New word
  • New concept
  • New exercise
  • New skill

As I reflected on Dr. Mapstone’s presentation, I was reminded that our creative pursuits are strong brain exercises. When we piece a quilt, write a sonnet, paint a watercolor, edit a photograph, write music lyrics, draft a chapter, or decorate a cake, we are creating new neurons.

When we study Parkinson’s, we learn new words. For example, bradyphrenia is slowed thinking. We add a new exercise move to our regular yoga workout. We learn about a new concept of slowing down the progress of PD through Rock Steady boxing in a support group. We go to a class and learn a new skill of boxing.

Here is a fun website: 40 amazing places to learn something new every day.

Examples of My Mental Activity

In June, I vacationed in Utah, Idaho and Montana. I was intrigued with huckleberry, but knew nothing about the state fruit of Idaho. I liked the sound of the name! (Probably due to me growing up an hour from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer- Huckleberry Finn country!) Everywhere I went I saw something huckleberry—candy bars, candy sticks, jam, cook books, soap, lotion and chap stick. I ate huckleberry pancakes and huckleberry ice cream at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel where I stayed. When I returned from vacation, I did a little research on this berry.

While sitting in the lobby at Lake Hotel, I observed two little boys playing pinochle. I use to play this card game with my father, but have long forgotten the rules. I decided I want to play this game again. There’s a day of learning. Dr. Mapstone mentioned playing cards as a great mental exercise.

This summer I read a couple of historical novels about the Underground Resistance Movement during World War II. That got me interested in doing some nonfiction reading on the topic. More learning!

I learn from my eBay customers, my girl friends at lunch and my Parkinson’s support group. I learned something new writing this cognition blog.

Let’s embrace mental activity as one of our brain exercise strategies today. Let’s be the 50% that does not have cognitive changes!

Question:  What have you learned today? What would you like to learn tomorrow? Next week?



Photo Credit for Focus:  Romain Vignes

Photo Credit for Huckleberry:  Linda Mohr





    • Jackie on August 14, 2018 at 6:56 pm
    • Reply

    Learning to play bridge

    1. Hi Jackie, Bridge is a great mental activity. Good for you!

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