On the Other Hand

fingernails

According to oprah.com, your brain never stops growing.

Scientists once believed that some of our brain cells died off when we got older. But it’s now clear that we not only hang on to our neurons—we grow new ones, too. Throughout a person’s lifetime, the brain continually reshapes itself in response to what it learns.

Learning rewires our brain. At first, the new skill might feel stiff and awkward but as we practice, things get smoother and feel more natural. According to The Science of Practice, what practice is actually doing is helping the brain optimize for this set of coordinated activities through a process called myelination.

Scientists have found that myelination increases the speed and strength of the nerve impulses by forcing the electrical charge to jump across the myelin sheath to the next open spot on the axon, instead of travelling in a straight line down the axon.

As we get older, growth of myelin happens at a slower rate and requires more effort, but increased neural activity still generates more of it onto our axons. As we practice, whether by writing, taking up ping-pong, or playing Wordle, we trigger a pattern of electrical signals that, over time, triggers myelination, increasing the speed and strength of the signal, like replacing dial-up with broadband. The more we practice, the stronger these connections become.

Frontiers for Young Minds likens the process to walking through a forest. Beating a new trail through the undergrowth is difficult, but the more you use the track, the easier it becomes as your path develops. When you stop using that route, the vegetation grows back, and the trail disappears. This is similar to what happens when you stop practicing something: the connections between neurons weaken and fade away.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with blog posts or articles that advise training our non-dominant hands, to stimulate the brain by mapping new neural pathways. Alzheimer’s websites advocate brushing our teeth with the other hand to improve “brain fitness.”

Web articles exist to help you to train your non-dominant hand.

It seemed to me a good idea, to train my left hand to fill in my sudoku at mealtimes when I have a fork in my right hand. It would save having to keep swapping implements while my meal goes cold.

Except… on trying it, I find my brain can’t concentrate on the puzzle while it’s busy trying to move my left hand in some semblance of legibility.

I may be asking too much of it. My writing is barely legible when I use my right hand. Perhaps I should instead try eating with the fork in my left hand instead.

But now I find BrainFacts.org, which says this belief that stronger connections between my brain’s hemispheres will make me smarter, isn’t backed up by researchers. My new skill’s enhanced neural wiring and hemispherical balance won’t necessarily be beneficial to other brain activities. While there are plenty of reasons to train both hands, such as an injury to my primary hand, or a wish to entertain grandchildren with juggling, boosting brain power isn’t one of them.

putting on mascara
person putting on mascara with left hand

I did find another tip though, among the oprah.com tips for enhancing brainpower.

Eye-wiggling.

If you can’t remember where you stashed your glasses? Try wiggling your eyes. Memory researcher Andrew Parker, PhD. explains that rapid horizontal eye movements from side to side cause the brain’s two hemispheres to interact with each other more efficiently which, in moments of temporary amnesia, may help you pull up information.

It hasn’t worked for me so far, but I’ll let you know.

ghostly hand
Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

What new skills are you taxing your brain with?

Does eye-wiggling work for you?

Me neither. 😦

15 thoughts on “On the Other Hand

  1. Never heard of eye wiggling. Tried it and it seemed to only make me cross-eyed. I have been tackling complicated history books. That seems to be reawakening long dormant neural pathways.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As my husband and I enter retirement we have been discussing this very topic. What can we do to keep our brains healthy. One idea was to learn a new language together, start up a robust garden, and stay active. Eye wiggling seems so much easier? Great article Cathy, thanks for sharing your research and findings! Hugs, C

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for reading.
      It’s amazing what you discover on the internet as long as you don’t believe everything you read… (Amazing what people think they can convice you of as well… )

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Good share Cathy and my dad’s geriatrician also says the say to my dad but he refuses to help self and so his dementia will worsen as he does not want to try to apply himself nor use word games or any form of brain activity. He just want to laze, sleep and eat. This ruins his brain capacity as both his geriatrician and neurologist tells him. Sigh!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As I keep telling my hubby – use it or lose it. My mum was the same. If we startd a crossword with her she wouldn’t want to join in, but by the end she would be supplying answers. Sadly, we had work during the day and she was bored. She wouldn’t let my sister drop her off at a local pensioners lunch club and pick her up later. She didn’t want to have to ‘talk to a load of old people.’

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great post, Cathy. My wife and I compete to see who can complete Wordle in the shortest number of tries, we are pretty evenly matched. I try to keep mentally active, I think that physical exercise helps too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I occasionally do a Wordle (when I remember) or even a Quordle, but not always successful with that one. Physical exercise is supposed to be good for the brain (I tell my husband) – presumably by pumping some oxygenated blood up there.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Eye wiggling…try to remember not to do it in public. You get some very strange looks and people coming up to you saying “are you alright dear”. I’m never sure how to answer that question which can lead to more enquiries such as “does matron know you’re out?”

    Great article Cathy and I shall endeavour to try using my right hand (I’m a leftie) for teeth cleaning etc.

    Liked by 2 people

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