Aging Well February 24th

In many ways we are what we remember. Mark Twain wrote, “Without memory we vanish – we cease to exist – our past is wiped out…”

It is scary: the fear of not being conscious of whom we are, starting with the gradual decline in remembering simple tasks – where did I park my car? We see the affects all around us – loved ones and friends who are just a shadow of their former selves and it tears at our hearts. And we ask ourselves, is that our future?
But Mark Twain continues, “…and yet we pay little attention to it except when it fails us- we do precious little to exercise it, to nurture it, to build it, to protect it.” Is there anything we can do to prevent or at least slow down the gradual deterioration of our memory? Or is it too late and as Satchel Paige once said, “If I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.” To find out, my wife and I attended an OHSU Brain Awareness lecture in Portland on “Aging Brain Plasticity: It’s Never Too Late to Learn or Improve” featuring Carl Cortman, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia at UC Irvine. (I really wonder how well my brain does function because I took her to this lecture instead of “Brain Chemistry for Lovers “Where the Art of Song meets the Science of Love”.)

I will skip the hippocampus and anti-amyloid therapies (I just mention those to give the impression I know what I am talking about.) and instead I will save you $25 and summarize in one word the main point of Dr. Cortman’s presentation: exercise. That’s it. Even though we live in a knowledge based society and our thinking skills are more important, we are less active which ironically contributes to our cognitive decline. One reason exercise is beneficial, particularly aerobic exercise, is because it increases the level of a chemical in the brain named BDNF – Dr. Cortman describes BDNF as brain fertilizer – which encourages neurons to form new synapses and strengthen existing ones. He described research that shows exercising three times a week can reduce the risk of dementia by 32% which rivals some medicines in their effectiveness. Exercise is good for your heart and there is now research to show it is also good for your brain.

If you want more information, go to the OHSU Brain Awareness web site at, or Sharp Brains at They are both excellent resources on brain development and brain health. And in future columns I will address the three other pillars of brain health: balanced diet, stress management, and brain exercise.

There is an incredible amount of health information available on the Internet, but where can you find information that is accurate, understandable and easily accessible? The fine folks from the Planetree Health Resource Center will answer that question when they present “One Stop Shopping for Health Information on the Internet” on Monday March 2th at 1:00 in the Center’s basement computer lab. There is space for only ten people. You can sign up at the Center by calling 296-4788.

And for the final flourish, Jerry Tanquist will speak about Wasco County’s role in how the Union Pacific Railroad came to be this Saturday at 1:30 in the upstairs courtroom of the 1859 Courthouse behind the Chamber of Commerce; Jim Bishop and Mike Kilkenney will discuss the latest changes in Reverse Mortgages at the Center on Tuesday at 11:00 AM and tonight at 7:00 pm at the Center the Olde Tymers will be playing country western for your dancing and listening pleasure.

Well that is enough for my little brain to convey in one week. Until we meet again, keep smiling, keep thinking and keep moving.

“The more you use your brain, the more brain you will have to use.” George Dorsey – WWII veteran

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