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Senior Viewpoint: The Heart of the Brain—Losses & Gains

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Are you concerned your brain’s ability may decline as you age, or that it already has?

If so, you’re far from alone. This is one of the most common current concerns about aging.

The Cedar Tree Institute of Marquette recently presented Heart of the Brain, a four-hour workshop addressing the unique nature of individual brains, and the impact of this uniqueness on one’s everyday life. Participants gained insights into the roots of memory and problem solving at different stages of life, with practical techniques and specific practices to improve mental functioning and decision-making.

Heart of the Brain, a unique program created by Layne Kalbfleisch, M.Ed., Ph.D., is an amalgam of psychology, neurology, pediatrics, behavior modification, education, art, prayerfulness, and intuition. Kalbfleisch designed this program to help participants learn basic principles about the brain’s function and plasticity–how it adapts, remembers, creates, and imagines in childhood and across life; the difference between good and bad stress; and new skills to keep it healthy, enhance memory, and support skills and talent in the individual.

Usually aging is seen as loss.

However, that’s not necessarily true. The brain, with its principle of plasticity, over time brings a tradeoff between declarative memory (names, dates, and other straightforward facts) and non-declarative memory (recollection of how to do things automatically, such as drive, swim, bike, etc.). With repetitive structures to daily life in place, elders may bring more openness, and approach their lives more creatively.

Cedar Tree Institute Executive Director Jon Magnuson notes, “I’ve seen this with people I’ve worked with in counseling—the ability to see options one hadn’t when younger, coming to a different way to look at one’s life. In the faith community, I’ve found it’s your children and elders who are the most creative, and that those in the middle age range are more likely to have become hardened and rigid.”

Kalbfleisch’s years as an educational psychologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and educator give her a unique background to approach brain function challenges from several perspectives at once. She is the founder of 2E Consults ® LLC, and works with doctors, psychiatrists, educators, physical therapists, and other professionals to help them function as a team to solve problems and ensure support from all sides for her clients.

“Teachers, doctors, psychologists, scientists–they all live in separate universes,” Kalbfleisch said.

“I bring information from learning science into people’s lives, uncover the root of problems, and help people understand them and find ways to work on them. The evaluation processes are standard, but I use the results more holistically to target change,” she said.

Kalbfleisch studies the relationship between talent and disability, and how the human brain supports ingenuity and problem-solving throughout a lifetime.  “I work across the lifespan,” she said. “I work with young children through those suffering from age-related changes to memory.”

Kalbfleisch helps clients use their natural assets to solve problems. She looks at the client’s weaknesses and strengths in functioning, and helps them understand and change unwanted behaviors. “Natural resources can be disguised as a burden,” she said.

Here are some of Kalbfleisch’s recommendations to help optimize your own brain’s function:

Make Music 

People who have training in music and who engage in music on a regular basis are being shown to have brains that are more resistant to distraction. Don’t play an instrument? Sing! This helps your brain to integrate and exercise, powerfully impacting its abilities.

Sleep Well

Deep, REM sleep lets your brain rest, sort, and sift, providing hygiene for your brain. Have trouble sleeping?  Fit more zzzs in with a nap. Research is showing naps support better cognitive processing.
Exercise – Staying active helps keep the parts of the brain that facilitate memory from aging as fast as the rest of the brain, so find and continue the forms that work for you.

Exercise

Staying active helps keep the parts of the brain that facilitate memory from aging as fast as the rest of the brain, so find and continue the forms that work for you.

Engage Socially 

Having a social life and engaging with others supports the aging brain by protecting against inflammation and supporting the processes that allow you to grow new brain cells in response to social experiences and activities. For bonus points, talk about your feelings. This exercises your ability to empathize, a key factor in connecting with others, which in turn improves your quality of life.

Kalbfleisch is affiliated with Pediatrics at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., and in the College of Education at Northern New Mexico College, Espanola, NM. She has been featured on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, SiriusXM Doctor Radio, The Coffee Klatch – Special Needs Radio, Rhode Island PBS ‘School Talk’ and as a columnist writing on brain science and education for the Fairfax County Times. To learn more, visit 2E Consults at the2e.com. Layne Kalbfleisch can be reached at (505) 316-0285 or 2econsults@gmail.com.

Thank you to article contributors Layne Kalbfleisch, Vicki Londerville, Jon Magnuson, and Roslyn McGrath.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved

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“Be Well As You Age,” with Chris Ray & Kate Lewandowski

Click here  to watch Thai Bodywork, Breath & Movement Practitioners Chris Ray & Kate Lewandowski’s presentation on how you can beat some of the so-called effects of aging shared at last Saturday’s “Myth-Busting & Self-Help Tips” forum, in celebration of our 10th anniversary.

And while you’re there, subscribe to Health and Happiness’s Youtube Channel to stay in the loop for more great video presentations!

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