Brain degeneration in size, vasculature, and cognition increases with age, leading to Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, cancer, neurological disorders, and stroke. This degeneration has been more prevalent in the last 30 years and has caused advances in preventions of neurodegeneration through the use of brain trainers such as puzzles, Sudoku, or similar memory games.
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Through the use of brain games or methods of mental stimulation, studies have found that individuals may improve cognitive functions such as working memory, response control, word processing, visual attention and reaction time (Bonnechere, et al 2021).
Cognitive function is important in the context of standing, walking, running, and throwing (FP First Four) as some studies have shown that difficulty in cognitive function is used as a method of predicting falls in the elderly (Halliday, et al. 2018).
At Functional Patterns, we find that training the brain in isolation through brain games, daily Sudoku, or memory games is similar to training muscle groups in isolation, in that it may lead to dysfunction as there is a potential to overtrain one particular area without integrating the rest of the body along with it.
This isn’t to say the use of puzzles, brain trainers, or other methods of mental stimulation don’t improve cognitive performance; we simply must consider that the brain is just one part of the body, and that in order to protect against neurodegeneration, we must train the whole system, brain and body together instead of in isolation.
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So do brain puzzles actually help protect the brain? If they do, which games in particular help? And what can seniors do to improve their cognition or protect against neurodegeneration if those daily Sudoku puzzles don’t provide the right type of mental stimulation?
In this article, we will provide Functional Patterns’ recommendations as to how one can improve and protect their brain against aging and neurological disorders, and why training the brain in isolation may only provide short-term results instead of long-term gains.
Dopamine and Reward
With current technological innovations such as the internet, computers, and smartphones, humans have the ability to stimulate their brains in ever increasing ways. You can access any sort of entertainment that you desire, such as video games, movies, TV shows, news stations, sports, or documentaries. You can even access lectures from prestigious schools teaching math, physics, biology, geology, while some streaming sites teach you how to fix your car, build a staircase, or even learn how rockets work.
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However, the brain’s reward system has been taken advantage of, causing us to become addicted to content that reinforces our behaviors around the use of this technology for entertainment using a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Dopamine plays a vital role in the modulation of behavior and cognition, voluntary movement, motivation, punishment and reward, inhibition of prolactin production, sleep, dreaming, mood, attention, working memory, and learning (Juarez Olguin, et al. 2016).
To put this simply, if one repetitively and successfully completes a brain trainer or puzzle, thei brain receives a reward of dopamine which then motivates that individual to expect the same reward by repeating the same behavior. This is how casinos take advantage of an individual through the enticements of the illusion that they will win as they did the first time.
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This can be problematic when it occurs too frequently through technology, where the brain becomes accustomed to the reward, developing a tolerance. This may lead a person to resorting to more intense behaviors to seek out gratification that replicates the same feeling of pleasure one received during the first time they completed the puzzle.
Although brain trainers or puzzles may have a positive impact on cognitive performance and neurodegeneration, the result of over reliance on technology to strengthen the brain may cause a dysfunction in the reward pathway, leading one to find less satisfaction with accomplishment over time.
Dopamine In The Wild
So if brain puzzles improve cognition but rely on the dopamine reward system to create a dysfunctional relationship leading to addiction, can one use brain puzzles optimally?
We must first understand how dopamine was used in nature before electronic screens and digital games became commonplace.
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Most motile animals behave in active foraging, locating resources in their environment that they need while avoiding harmful stimuli. This relies heavily on the reward-seeking and reinforcement system involving dopamine in these motile animals (Barron, et al., 2010). The same reward system we discussed above.
Even in certain studies, animals were shown to prefer dopamine stimulation in the brain over food or water rewards, making dopamine an even stronger influence than the literal necessities to facilitate life (Barron, et al., 2010).
This provides valuable knowledge that dopamine was always linked to movement in animals as a way to establish learning and reward with survival. If the animal could not feel a sense of reward or accomplishment when obtaining resources, they would surely perish in nature due to an inability to learn that food and water was necessary for survival.
So should we, as humans, train our brains with technology that impacts our reward-seeking and reward-learning neurobiological systems at such a deep level in isolation from movement? Should we also perform exercises traditionally in a monotonous fashion without the use of our brains?
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We at Functional Patterns believe that this is a foolhardy way of sacrificing your biomechanics in hopes of improving or protecting your mind or body due to the lack of integration.
This is not to say that we disagree with using digital technology to stimulate the mind, or even stimulate the mind in absence of technology like reading books or learning to play an instrument. We just advise that your exercise training program should train the mind and body together as a system because that is how the brain developed in nature, moving through the environment to obtain resources and avoiding dangerous stimuli.
So how would someone decide to protect their brain from aging? Specifically, what could someone who has already been dealing with neurodegeneration possibly do to slow down or reverse signs of brain degeneration?
Mentally Solving Problems With Functional Patterns
Individuals who are going through the symptoms of neurodegeneration often find it difficult to use their body the same way they did when they were younger. The most common symptoms of neuron loss can affect the most basic functions like speech, movement, stability, and balance, as well as more complicated tasks such as bladder and bowel functions and cognitive abilities (Lamptey, et al., 2022)
Some new training programs recommend adding exercise with brain puzzles at the same time in hopes of integrating both the brain and body together. But swinging a kettlebell while throwing and catching a ball isn’t going to keep the mind sharp and protect it from neurodegeneration, despite how difficult it may be to do so.
At Functional Patterns, we have observed a significant improvement in the movement capacities of clients who have worked on correcting their ability to stand, walk, run, and throw. In order to address the dysfunctions of how one moves, one must be able to use their mind as well as the body. This is why many FP doers find their mind is quite exhausted after a session of FP focused on solving their individually specific problems.
Result by Danny Hung
This client from FP Taiwan started to reverse his symptoms of motor control loss due to Parkinson’s disease in just 2 years of training Functional Patterns. By critically applying training principles developed by FP, this client was able to restore his ability to stand, walk, run, and throw, and is now living with a higher quality of life with more stable levels of energy throughout the day.
Result by Oscar Favaro
Another client with advanced stage 5 Parkinson’s disease and was unable to stand or walk, and was kept immobilized found her cognitive levels were getting worse along with troubles with her memory, but after training with an FP practitioner, she was able to stand, walk, and throw with less effort. Not only did her movement capacity improve, but her cognitive levels improved as well as her memory, so she could keep socializing and do her daily Sudoku puzzles with more ease.
Aging may cause neurodegeneration with symptoms including loss of motor control, verbal speech, and cognitive performance. Many in today’s society that are dealing with the loss of neurons use brain trainers such as puzzles, brain games, memory games, and even Sudoku in hopes of protecting themselves against this neurodegeneration.
Although brain games and puzzles may improve some characteristics of cognitive performance, we at Functional Patterns find that due to the nature of how the brain and body developed together in nature as a means of obtaining resources in the environment to survive, we should train the brain and body as a system instead of in isolation.
Mechanically solving problems will enhance your intellectual ability to solve problems. By correcting and improving the basic functions of standing, walking, running, and throwing, you will not only build a neuro-protective mechanism against aging disorders and neuron loss, but will also protect the movement capabilities that are often lost due to aging.
- Barron, A. B., Søvik, E., & Cornish, J. L. (2010). The roles of dopamine and related compounds in reward-seeking behavior across animal phyla. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 4, 163. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2010.00163
- Bonnechère, B., Klass, M., Langley, C., & Sahakian, B. J. (2021). Brain training using cognitive apps can improve cognitive performance and processing speed in older adults. Scientific reports, 11(1), 12313. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-91867-z
- Halliday, D. W. R., Hundza, S. R., Garcia-Barrera, M. A., Klimstra, M., Commandeur, D., Lukyn, T. V., Stawski, R. S., & MacDonald, S. W. S. (2018). Comparing executive function, evoked hemodynamic response, and gait as predictors of variations in mobility for older adults. Journal of clinical and experimental neuropsychology, 40(2), 151–160. https://doi.org/10.1080/13803395.2017.1325453
- Juárez Olguín, H., Calderón Guzmán, D., Hernández García, E., & Barragán Mejía, G. (2016). The Role of Dopamine and Its Dysfunction as a Consequence of Oxidative Stress. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2016, 9730467. https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/9730467
- Lamptey, R. N. L., Chaulagain, B., Trivedi, R., Gothwal, A., Layek, B., & Singh, J. (2022). A Review of the Common Neurodegenerative Disorders: Current Therapeutic Approaches and the Potential Role of Nanotherapeutics. International journal of molecular sciences, 23(3), 1851. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms23031851