The Brainwaves Center
Bargain Books for Yoiur Brain! How Memory Works Fun Tests Learn About Your Brain Conatct Us and About Us
Home to Brainwaves Books
Our Mission
Brainwaves Book Store




Puzzles and Self-tests

You have to keep challenging your brain to keep it sharp. The trick is to use your brain every day — ideally for things that are at least a little different from anything you’ve done before — rather than just once in a while. The only way that will happen is if the things that keep your brain sharp are also things you enjoy doing. The good news is that your brain has reward systems built into it that encourage you to do what keeps it alive and healthy. You just have to give it the material it needs to do that.

The central player in your brain’s reward system is dopamine, a natural brain chemical that feels good. Your brain’s dopamine levels rise when it encounters something new, and dopamine levels remain high at least until the novelty wears off.


Dopamine probably also plays a role in neurogenesis, the brain’s process of regenerating its own neurons. With age, both neurogenesis and the brain’s natural dopamine levels tend to drop. Many of the unwanted cognitive changes that come with aging might be avoided by regularly engaging in activities that raise dopamine levels. Many of those activities also use mental skills that need to be actively maintained in order to avoid losing them
with age.Two Images in One



What do you see in this image?

How to Calculate Your Mental Activity Score
  • Playing board games or cards
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Reading for pleasure
  • Writing for pleasure
  • Doing crossword puzzles
  • Participating in organized group discussions

Calculate your activity-days per week:
For each activity, give yourself 1 point for each day per week that you do it. For example, if you do crossword puzzles every day, give yourself 7 points for that. If you play mah-jongg once a week, give yourself 1 point for that. Then, add up all your points for your total score. Among the 75-plus-year-old participants in the study that used this scale, those who got dementia had an average score of 7.5; those who avoided dementia had an average score of 10.6. Subjects who scored in the highest third (over 11 activity-days per week) had a 63% lower dementia risk that those who scored in the lowest third.Girl Reading


You don’t have to do just these activities, of course. Use common sense to decide whether to count an activity or not. A mentally stimulating hobby that also gives you social interaction is excellent; if it gives you physical exercise as well, even better. Here are some examples:

Mental: reading, writing, solving puzzles

Mental plus social: playing board games, joining discussion groups

Mental plus social plus physical: doing group yoga, taichi, or martial arts; conducting music; taking Preservation Society tours of historic homes in your area; sailing; playing charades; acting in amateur drama productions; singing in a choir; touring botanical gardens and learning the names of plants with a friend; taking classes in anything interesting (a language, paper making, furniture restoration, calligraphy) at a local community center or college.

Set this as your goal: Whatever your score, raise it by one point every week for 2 months. To get a point, all you have to do is do one more activity one day per week.



What's Your Limit?
If you try to remember a number series just long enough to repeat it back, you’ll be limited by a “mind’s ear” short-term memory store known as the phonological loop. Your limit will probably be about 7 numbers. Try it:
1-5-3-5-6-1 (now look away and repeat the number)


Have you reached your limit yet? You can memorize more numbers if you organize them into larger units, a procedure called chunking:

The way to memorize much larger sequences of data is to analyze them on a level that runs deeper than mere sound.
15 (the age of your cat)
356 (the date Alexander the Great was born (BC))
1925 (the year your mother was born)
1129 (your sister-in-law’s birthday (November 29th)


Embedded Figures
In each row, which of the designs in the right two columns contains the figure to the left? Men tend to perform a little better on this visualization task than women. Interestingly, people with autism (over 80% of whom are male) perform better, on average, than non-autistics.

Embedded Images


Two Self-tests
Selective Attention
For anyone, it can be difficult to pay attention to more than one thing at once. That’s especially true if the two things are similar. Try this. Here’s a sequence of numbers:
3 - 17 - 6 - 11- 8. What I want you to do is keep that series of numbers in your head while you perform the multiplication problem below. (First cover up the number sequence you’re trying to remember!) 34 x 47 = ___ All done? Now, what were those numbers? If you succeeded in remembering them, you have an unusually good ability to do two things at the same time. If you didn’t, don’t worry. Just take it as a lesson about the importance of selective attention when you want to remember something.Math Student
Visualization Test
The brain system that gives us our ability to recognize a face is located in the right hemisphere. That system sees the face as a holistic pattern, not a collection of individual parts. But when a face is turned upside-down, our face recognition faculty doesn’t work very well. We fall back on a strategy of checking individual features, and may not notice that their arrangement is bizarre. Do both these faces look normal? Are you sure?

Two Faces


View the faces right-side up

©2009 Allen D. Bragdon Publishers