Brain Work-Outs and You - The Bipolar Question of the Week

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Use it or lose it, we have been told. With bipolar, we face a special challenge, as cognitive difficulties are a large part of what we have to contend with, even if our moods happen to be stable at the time. This does not mean we are less intelligent. It’s just that in certain situations, with certain tasks, our brains may experience more difficulty in processing certain types of information.


    Typically, our brains have to work a lot harder just doing routine tasks. Under stress, we tend to break down.


    In schizophrenia, where the cognitive challenges are more obvious, researchers such as Michael Merzenich of UCSF have been developing computer games for working out the neural muscles. These games are designed to improve the brain’s “executive function,” say in keeping a name in our heads and responding in a timely way to external stimuli.

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    So, can we do our own brain workouts? Funny you should ask. Last night, on the phone with a friend, he happened to mention a site that specialized in this sort of thing. Their free sample test challenged my working memory and attentional skills. I did just fine, but I felt like a wrung-out dishrag when I was through. 


    In real life, I typically have to keep performing in this sort of wrung-out dishrag state, long after I want to stop. This may explain my dysfunctional relationship with IKEA and why I get frayed around the edges when I’m around people too long.


    So - maybe with everyday workouts, I could improve my cognitive speed and endurance and enjoy a happier life. That would be money well spent, would it not? The catch is the asking price for a yearly or monthly subscripton. I will give the site a miss for now.


    Nevertheless, I see a day when our doctors will be prescribing exercises like these as a matter of course. True, we already engage in mentally challenging activities that are good for the brain. The question is - are these complete in and of themselves? Doing a crossword puzzle, for instance, is certainly intellectually challenging, but do we also need to be shooting down space aliens?


    Think about it - when we go to the gym, we don't just work one set of muscles.


    Let's make this an open-ended discussion: Tell us what you think and what helps you.


    Comments below ...

Published On: November 04, 2013