Help us discover how peoples' cognitive abilities change according to age and other conditions.
"One has to begin to lose his/her memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all... Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we may feel nothing..."
The above moving and frightening quote is from Luis Bunuel, the famous film maker. My observations of people with different neurological disorders including Alzheimer disease, often makes me wonder what sort of a life, what sort of a self, can be preserved in a human who is losing his/her memory and feeling lost in time. These are questions that nobody has an answer for it. Nevertheless, as Dr. Sacks, says, however great the brain damage might be, there remains the undiminished possibility of reintegration by art, by communion, by touching the human spirit; this can be preserved in what seems at first a hopeless state of neurological devastation. This is also what I've observed in my interactions with patients affected by dementia, Alzheimer, and cerebral palsy.
Aside from the unknown and rare conditions that may cause a neurological dysfunction, there are ways to age with a healthy brain. It is known that our memory weakens by aging. But the good news is that, in general, at any age we can strengthen and sharpen our memory and cognition. Think of the brain like a muscle; if we don't use our muscles actively, they atrophy and shrink. Thus, the general phrase of "use it or loose it" applies to brain's neurons and their connections (synapses) too.
My group has designed a series of experimental memory exercises to strengthen memory, in particular the "associative memory": the memory that is formed based on our experiences every day. We make associations between different objects in order to remember and use them in our daily life. For example, we learn to associate an ATM machine with money. But as we age, we may find learning new concepts and making new associations a bit more difficult. The purpose of these exercises is to help with learning new concepts. My recommendation is to play at least two of them (the first two in particular) for about 15-20 minutes in the morning, every day. As a rule of thumb, if you can remember only up to 5 or less random words in "short term memory" exercise, you may decide to do these exercises regularly. If you are young and/or find the Associative Memory exercise too easy, spend your time on the 2nd and 3rd exercises.
By the way, you may use an anonymous email and name to access these exercises. Nevertheless, your identity and email address will remain confidential.
We have done a pilot study investigating the effect of these exercises through a controlled study on 14 individuals age 70-80 year old for 8 consecutive weeks, 3 days/week and one hour/day. The results being assessed by WMS, an idenpendent memory assessment, have been very encouraging. We are in the process of finalizing the control group results too and submit it to a journal for publication.
If you have any question or concern, you may contact me by email (Zahra_Moussavi@Umanitoba.ca). I also greatly appreciate your feedback.
In order to play the exercises first you need to make an account and verify it by checking your email. The page for exercises and making an account is: http://bme.eng.umanitoba.ca/BrainExercises/
The games all have a brief instruction that opens up in the same window. But if you need more detailed instruction, please read below instructions.
Getting involved is easy! You can participate from home with our online brain exercises.
To participate, the following is required:
- Your computer must have an "always-on" internet connection
- High speed internet qualifies as an "always-on" connection
- Your computer must have the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) installed
- If you are unsure whether you have the JRE installed, visit this webpage. If it says that you do not have java installed, click the "Download Java Now" button on that webpage.
- An email address
- Your willingness to participate!
If you have everything listed above, then you are ready to participate in our study. Follow these steps in order to register for our study:
- Go to http://bme.eng.umanitoba.ca/BrainExercises/ (link opens in a new window).
- Click the "Make New Account" link.
- Fill in the fields shown. Please keep in mind:
- Your username can be any combination of letters, numbers, and spaces, dashes, and underscores. The maximum allowable length of your username is 40 characters.
- Your username must be unique. To see if your desired username is taken, click the "Check Username" button.
- Passwords are case-sensitive
- The email address you enter must be valid, since we will send you an activation email. We do this to minimize the amount of illegitimate accounts created.
- Your age, gender, native language, education level, and occupation is required for this study. This information will be kept private.
- When done, click "Register".
- If any information is missing, or not within the constraints, the error will be printed at the top of the page. If this happens, make the needed changes, then click "Register"
- When everything you enter is accepted by the system, the page will display "Thank you for registering for this study!".
- Check your email inbox for a message with the subject line "Brain Fitness Account Verification". Be sure to check your spam folder if it doesn't appear in your inbox. The message usually appears within one minute, but it may take up to ten minutes to appear.
- If the message never appears, please tell an administrator (eg. Dr. Moussavi or Mari) your username, and they will activate your account.
- Click the link inside the message only once.
- Your account is now activated, and you are now registered in our study.
To play the brain exercises:
- Go to http://bme.eng.umanitoba.ca/BrainExercises/.
- Click on one of the links listed below the heading "Try the following brain exercises".
- If the JRE (Java) is installed on your computer, a new window should appear that asks for your username and password.
- If this window does not appear after 20 seconds, verify that your computer has java installed by visiting this link.
- Enter your username and password, then click "Start". The instructions will be displayed.
To view your results and change your account settings:
- Go to http://bme.eng.umanitoba.ca/BrainExercises/.
- Under "Change Account Settings", enter your username and password, then click "Log In".
- Under "Your Score History and Comparison", click on a game name to see your results for that game. The page also lists average score for that game according to age range, your average score, and your age.
- Only games which keep a score are listed under "Your Score History and Comparison"
- To change your account settings, edit the fields that appear under the heading "Edit Account Settings", then click "Update Account Settings".
- These settings should be changed only if you need to correct a mistake in your personal information. Changing your password, however, is encouraged for security purposes.