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    Brain fog, head games and Cranium Crunches

    I always admired my mother-in-law's determination to keep her mind functioning as well as possible. She did crossword puzzles every single day and regularly engaged in new activities to help keep the wheels of her aging brain turning.

    I used to enjoy crossword puzzles but I've done only a handful in the past decade or so. I did start taking piano lessons in my forties in hopes of increasing the dendrites in my brain, those little networking cables that make the mind move better the more you have. Unfortunately, though, I had to eliminate piano lessons when money got tight. My determination to keep up the practicing sans lessons pooped out soon after, as well as my dendrite production.

    My mind and memory have apparently pooped out, too. A recent lunch with a friend I'd not seen in more than five years made me all too aware of my egregious lack of recall. As my friend and I and her daughter dined and discussed getting together with our husbands for a game night, I told my friend that although I don't know her husband, he must be a pretty good guy if she's married to him. To which she responded that I have indeed met him, have actually had him and her over to our house for a barbecue several years ago.

    I didn't remember. At all. And felt pretty stupid about it. I couldn't even blame it on having a few too many beers during that forgotten BBQ because it wasn't that kind of a gathering, considering her then-adolescent kids had attended and enjoyed hanging out in our hot tub. Which I didn't recall either. At all.

    Again, I felt pretty stupid. I wanted to blame the brain fog on having MS, to say, "Oh, I must have a sclerosis smack dab on top of that specific memory." But that would be even more stupid. And surely a lie.

    Truth is, my brain fog, my memory, my total (or even partial) recall has been getting worse and worse and worse as I age. And I'm not really all that aged. But I find myself more often than before forgetting what I was going to say in certain circumstances, and I've become pretty bad at brainiac things I was once good at, like word play and matching games and puzzles.

    I've found help, though. It's free, it's fun, it makes a difference, and it can be enjoyed by anyone at any age. It's called Cranium Crunches.

    Cranium Crunches is the brain child (yes, pun intended; I can still throw together a pun now and then) of Ruth Curran. Curran, who is degreed in psychology and has extensive research experience, hatched the idea for the site after witnessing dementia issues with her parents—attributable to cancer and chemo in her mother's case, Parkinson's disease in her father—and the difference puzzles and games made in restoring their cognitive ability and their confidence.

    "I set out to create a series of photo based puzzles that remind us of our lives," Curran says, "a set of brain exercises with cross generational appeal that provide a safe place to practice those skills that might be slipping, work on/hone some skills, improve focus, or just look at some cool photos and tell stories. It had to be free, require no subscription, no plan, no commitment—just come and play."

    Which is exactly what Cranium Crunches provides, as well as a page on what games will help you most. The selection of photo-based games and puzzles include Memory Match, Find the Difference, One of These Things is Not Like the Others and more. All the games are quite fun and engaging, but my favorite so far has been Find the Difference, mostly because I'm determined to find them all before my time is up (which I've not yet been successful at). With increasing degrees of difficulty, it's easy to choose one you like and get better and better and better at it, all the while exercising that cranium and achieving an ageless brain in tip-top shape.

    Ageless and tip-top shape is my goal for my brain. I've got quite a ways to go, though, according to the scores I've earned so far in my Cranium Crunches game play. But it's a start. And it's fun. And it's something I plan to incorporate into my daily routine—just like my mother-in-law used to do with her crossword puzzles.

    photo: stock.xchng

    Disclosure: I wrote this blog post while participating in a campaign by on behalf of Cranium Crunches and received payment for my participation. All opinions stated within are my own.

    Today's question:

    What do you like to do to keep your mind challenged and exercised?

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    Reader Comments (11)

    Ha! I think you must have written this just for me. I hope I can remember to check out Cranium Crunches.

    June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlga

    Fortunately, our business keeps my mind challenged and occupied on a daily basis. Seems that I'm always on a learning curve.

    I like the idea of Cranium Crunches (because it sounds like great fun!), but forgive me if I'm a bit cynical about the results. My Mom was an avid reader, crossword puzzle expert, jigsaw puzzle aficionado, and kept learning throughout her life. It didn't help...she has Alzheimers just as my Nonnie did.

    Yep, if I forget something I totally freak out!

    June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNonnieKelly

    Olga: Ha! I'm glad it resonated. You'll definitely have to let me know what you think once you play a few games.

    NonnieKelly: I completely understand your cynicism and can only imagine how scary it is to have that in the family. Alzheimer's is such an unfair and unpredictable disease with seemingly no way to prevent it.

    I've always thought it was interesting the things we remember and the things we don't. And why? Why is it I can remember some things from 5 years ago and not others?? I will definitely be checking out Cranium Crunches -- I will have to add it to my daily to do list so that I don't forget! As for how I keep the brain challenged currently -- I spend a lot of time on trying to become geekier! I do love to learn!

    June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Kc

    Leave it to you, girl, to find something that could (possibly) help in any given situation. It may already be too late for me but I might give it a try; couldn't hurt, to quote one of Jerry's sayings.

    I'm going ape today because my old coffee maker finally quit--wouldn't let out the water onto the coffee grounds, no matter what I tried, so, I have to go buy another one. That's probably all I'll think about 'til I get the new one; I sure made a royal mess trying to make coffee the really old-fashioned way, putting coffee in water in a pan, bringing it to a boil, shutting it off and splashing cold water in to settle the grounds, then pouring it through a tea strainer into a cup. Wasn't good either. Oh, well.

    June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

    Good article Lisa. I have no trouble keeping my brain exercised while I'm in grad school. That's a given. Other than that, I enjoy reading, Words with Friends and crosswords.

    June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTerri Sonoda

    Grandma Kc: I know what you mean. I think it's interesting how I can remember the lyrics to songs I learned in elementary school and those I loved as a teen, but can't for the life of me memorize the songs I currently love. Thanks for the link to Had not heard of that and am totally psyched to get geekier, too. Thank you!

    Ann: Cranium Crunches is EXACTLY what you need and ideal for those who have had strokes. Check it out and do a few games.'ll help! (And good luck with getting better coffee. That you had this morning sounds disgusting!) :-)

    Terri: I'm amazed by your ability to have any time to play anything anyway. You are one busy lady...with a brain continually (and impressively) in overdrive. ♥

    Great post, I jumped over there and gave it a try! One of these is not like the other was challenging, but fun. I know I have problems with quick thinking, so thanks for the info, will give this site a little attention. :)

    June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

    Angela: It's HARD, isn't it!? I was thinking of the kinds of things like in HIGHLIGHTS magazine when I first heard about Cranium Crunches but no, definitely a workout but so worth it (and so needed, in my case)!

    I do the Thursday-Friday-Saturday crossword puzzles. You do know that they get harder as the week progresses, don't you? Hubby and I also play cards one day a week. I think that both of these activities are good brain exercise, but I'm skeptical that they will stave off dementia due to organic causes. My mom was a whiz at crosswords, but still succumbed to dementia. When I was cleaning out her house following my dad's death last June, I found a crossword puzzle that she had started. Just a few words were filled in, and some of them were wrong. So sad.

    June 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Adcox

    Going to check the site out, thanks Lisa for sharing.

    I love doing crossword puzzles infact any games that are to do with letters. Norman & I play scrabble every Saturday, nine times out of ten I wll get the tiles out, sometimes twice in a game.

    June 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSally Kabak
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