idea ,teamwork and business conceptWhen I woke up from the coma  I’d been in for the past week,  I was barely there.  It was as if the light in the attic had a short in the wiring and was dimly flickering on and off.

I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds, and my brain couldn’t make sense of what it was seeing.  To my surprise, garbled noises and mutilated words spewed from my mouth when I opened it to speak.  What did come out was disturbingly slow, flat, and mangled. The sluggishness of my speech was an indication of how quickly my brain was working – not very fast.

I’d tried to end my life by swallowing an assortment of pills, mostly brain drugs, and although I’d survived, my brain was stuck in a drugged stupor.

Over the first year after the attempt, I naturally recovered enough to resume living independently but was still mentally impaired.  I had short-term memory problems, an inability to focus, aphasia, limited social skills, no math aptitude, and very little impulse control.  By then, I’d healed enough emotionally to decide that I did want to live, and I promised myself, “I AM NOT living like this!”

So, I started learning everything I could about how to rebuild my brain and tried anything that might possibly help me from supplements and exercise to alternative therapies and brain training.  The more I learned, the better I got, and the better I got, the more I learned.

After hearing about Posit Science’s Brain Fitness Program (BFP – now offered online as BrainHQ) from my neurofeedback practitioner, I purchased the software and began a rigorous daily brain training schedule. The BFP had me begin by doing an exercise to assess my brain’s processing speed which involved listening to sounds that went up or down, called sweeps.

I remember how infuriatingly difficult it was for me to tell whether the sound had gone up or down.  I would have to visualize the sweep in my mind.  Did it go down and then back up like a checkmark or the other way around?  At first, I couldn’t tell most of the time,  and as I improved, the software adjusted to continually challenge me.

At the end of the program, I did another assessment and was thrilled to find that my processing speed had more than doubled.  Wow!  I’d discovered something that substantially improved my brain that didn’t require expensive doctor’s visits, medication, or therapy.  It was as simple as sitting at the computer and having fun.

After I saw that the brain training was doing something pretty remarkable, I went through the program again and again until I stopped seeing improvement.  Then, I went on to other brain training products.  However, I would run back through the BFP occasionally to give my brain a tune-up.

The brain injury also left me with some slight visual processing deficits which completely resolved after doing Posit’s InSight program for memory, vision, and focus (also now part of BrainHQ online).  For instance, after walking the dog one day, I threw the black leash down on the ground among pine needles and leaves.  To save my life, my brain couldn’t pick it out of the myriad of shapes and colors.  My Dad walked right over and spotted it immediately.

Does Brain Training Work?

Like anything new, the effectiveness of brain training is still the subject of some debate in the scientific community, and you can find studies for and against it. But there is no debate in my mind. It helped me dramatically and was crucial to my recovery.  But the cool thing is, it can work for your brain too.  No brain injury is required.  However, my results may have been so significant because my brain had so much room for improvement.

The article Can Brain Training Work by SharpBrains reads:

Evi­dence is grow­ing that brain train­ing can work….Why do we still often hear that brain train­ing does not work? Because of the dif­fer­ent under­stand­ings of what ‘brain train­ing’ and ‘work’ mean. A machine to train abdom­i­nal mus­cles prob­a­bly won’t ‘work’ if what we mea­sure is blood pres­sure.” 

Brain training takes advantage of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its form and function based on repeated input throughout your life.  Your brain is changing every minute of every day as a result of what you do, feel, and think anyway.  Brain training exercises harness and direct this process.  Just as you work out to exercise your body, you can exercise your memory, attention, and other cognitive skills to keep them in top shape.

There are a lot of “brain training” and “brain game” companies out there, and they’re not all created equally. When looking for a brain training product, it’s important that it be based on and backed by science.  I like Posit’s BrainHQ which has over 70 published, peer-reviewed studies in academic journals that show lasting brain benefits.  Posit Science is led by a leading brain plasticity scientist, Dr. Michael Merzenich, with one-fourth of company employees holding PhDs.

The BrainHQ website puts it this way:

Think of it like a tree
Healthy roots able to absorb plentiful nutrients and water make for a stronger trunk, shinier leaves, and more fruit. A BrainHQ brain exercise strengthens the brain from the roots up. This approach is different from many others, which provide compensatory strategies, teach the brain ‘tricks’ to remember, or drill the brain with memory exercises. Many scientific studies demonstrate that such a focus on caring for the fruit while ignoring the roots has only limited benefits.”

BrainHQ is an online brain training service with over 30 exercises to improve memory, attention, brain speed, people skills, intelligence, and navigation. It is based on the original BFP I did which came as a diskette in the mail back then.  Now, BrainHQ even has specific exercises to better chemobrain, driving, vision, hearing, and sports performance.  The first levels of select exercises are free, and you can use them as often as you like, for as long as you like.  However, you can access the full range of BrainHQ’s exercises and benefits by subscribing.

The benefits of brain training  include:

  • Faster thinking
  • Better memory
  • Get more things done
  • More receptive to trying new things
  • Finding words
  • Sharper listening and vision
  • Quicker reflexes
  • Safer driving
  • More self-confidence
  • Improved mood

Brain training can be an important part of a brain-healthy lifestyle.  Along with exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, mental challenge,  and social engagement, brain training can help ensure that your brain stays in good working shape as you age.   With over five million Americans age 65 and older currently living with Alzheimer’s and that number is projected to triple by 2050 according to the Alzheimer’s Association, brain health is a top concern to almost everyone — or should be.

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