All the rage in the 1990s, investment clubs have dipped in popularity amid economic turbulence in recent years.
Meanwhile, bolstered by mounting research on the proactive steps we can take to stave off our mind’s decline, an Evanston neuropsychologist is pioneering a new kind of group whose members seek long-term returns.
Dr. Sherrie All has dubbed it the Brain 401K Investment Club. The group’s first gathering is on September 25th and meets entirely online.
The inspiration for the Brain 401K Investment Club can be traced to 2009, when All started using the easy-to-grasp financial analogy to explain the dramatic differences in individuals’ ability to recover from brain injuries and ward off dementia. Her focus, much like financial managers who steward a well-tuned, balanced portfolio, is helping individuals prepare for and minimize inevitable declines – not in finances but in cognitive power.
In the two-hour sessions, which convene twice monthly for six months, All will facilitate an interactive group whose members identify and pursue goals to improve brain health, lower the risk for dementia and improve thinking efficiency.
A licensed clinical neuropsychologist who began the Chicago Center for Cognitive Wellness in 2012, All is a leading advocate of “brain fitness” and the link between our body’s physical health and retaining, or even enhancing, our mental faculties as we get older.
Her insights were included in a recent story in The New Yorker that explored the burgeoning brain fitness field.
For the past three years, through her practice and in her role as a brain fitness consultant for Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging in Evanston, All has treated a wide array of clients, from those recovering from strokes and other brain injuries to healthy executives working to keep and make gains with their mental edge.
Because hereditary, environmental or other factors diminish our cognition over time, by making a greater the investment in brain health, the more resilient we will be in warding off deterioration via dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other traumas.
Until recently, it was believed that positive brain developments stopped when a person reached adulthood. Now we know that the adult brain continues to grow and change in positive ways throughout our lives.
To borrow from All’s Brain 401K metaphor, an adult’s “cognitive reserves” can rise or fall based on a variety of lifestyle factors including our mental outlook and physical experience.
During her training to become a neuropsychologist, All in 2005 began focusing on helping people improve their attention and memory deficits.
“Around 2007, I started to notice a lot of people coming in for evaluations were those who would say, ‘I don’t really know why I have memory problems. There’s no Alzheimer’s in my family. I only smoked for 30 years and had high blood pressure for a long time,’” All said. “Based on what we know about the brain, a lot of that stuff depletes your reserves, making you more vulnerable to dementia.”
The link between everything from our shoulders down and our brain came into focus about 15 years ago, when researchers discovered something extraordinary—and extraordinarily encouraging: we grow new brain cells throughout our life.
And the brain-cell manufacturing shifts into a higher gear after we exercise. Learning new things helps the new brain cells stick around and grow up into functioning neurons. Eating healthful foods, rich in antioxidants and omega 3s, helps them stay healthy.
Meanwhile, stress and unhealthy activities such as smoking can prevent growth and even kill brain cells at an alarming rate.
“Most of the brain fitness industry focuses on mental stimulation. This is fine for retired people who may be challenging their minds less,” All observed. “But for working adults in mentally demanding jobs, this is probably the last place where we need to invest in terms of cognitive reserve.”
“Most of us can get a better return on our brain investment at this phase of life by going to the gym more often or getting a regular massage than we can from zoning out on brain games,” All added.
In her work with clients, All conducts a lifestyle assessment that measures, among other variables, intellectual activity, physical health conditions, physical activity and social connections. The outcome of that assessment helps forecast relative risk for cognitive decline.
A self-assessment last year prompted All to make some lifestyle and dietary changes of her own: since giving birth to her second daughter, she has lost more than 30 pounds, gets regular massages, eats more vegetables, and exercises and meditates as much as she can.
With clients, All also administers brain exercises via computer programs and worksheets that, in layman’s terms, might come across as memory games.
Exercises in that vein will be part of the Brain 401K Investment Club experience, including a cognitive decline risk assessment and a cognitive screener and mood assessment.
With the creation of the new club, All is enthused about the prospect of expanding her ability to support people from anywhere in the world as they strive to nurture their brains’ health.
“Our brains don’t issue statements that are full of figures every quarter, but the research is clear: some people simply build up bigger ‘mental 401Ks’ than others,” said All. “It’s rewarding to play a role in helping make that happen for others.”
The Chicago Center for Cognitive Wellness is at 1601 Sherman Ave., Suite 210 and online at www.cogwellness.com. For more information, call 855-COG-WELL (855-264-9355).