Cognitive Issues? Here's a Fun Way to Give Your Brain a Workout
Many people with multiple sclerosis experience some type of cognitive issue. According to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, approximately half of all MS patients will develop some sort of issue with cognition.1
Cognitive rehabilitation, puzzles, and Sudoku
Many patients work with health professionals who provide cognitive rehabilitation. Others find that playing games such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku are helpful in exercising their brainpower.
I found a better way to exercise my brain
Last year, I had the good fortune to meet an extraordinarily passionate woman who not only impressed me with her vast knowledge of how the brain functions, but also by her devotion to finding fun ways to rewire and repair the brain.
Ruth Curran created her website, Cranium Crunches, to offer free online games as a way for readers to work on their cognitive skills such as attention, memory, and executive functioning. I dare you not to have fun while you discover how easy it is to work on your brainpower.
“Memory Match,” “Scrambles,” “Find the Difference,” and “One of These Things is Not Like the Others” are some of the games Ruth offers on her site.
An interview with Ruth Curran
Here is part one of my two-part interview with the brilliant and endearing Ruth Curran.
Me: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Ruth, and why you decided to dedicate yourself and your business to strengthening brain function.
A foundation in psychology
Ruth: Both of my degrees are in psychology, and my academic focus was always on research. I am fascinated by the connection between how we function, how we behave, and changes in the brain. The subject of my master’s thesis was how the brain can be re-wired and repaired through cognitive rehabilitation (basic brain exercises) post-stroke-related brain injury.
I had two eye-opening experiences. My mom had a sudden and rapid reappearance of cancer and went through very aggressive chemotherapy when she was in her early seventies. She started having trouble with things like finding the right word or focusing on details.
One day at a doctor’s appointment, I heard someone speaking to her as if she a toddler in terms “she could understand.” My mom earned a master’s degree in the 1940s and functioned at a very high level. I watched as she slumped a bit as this person, who my mom could think circles around on her worst day, spoke down to her.
Paper and pencil exercises
So, I dusted off a rehabilitation program I had been working on as part of a dissertation and spent hours doing paper and pencil exercises that worked her brain and helped her put words, shapes, and ideas into categories. It gave her a sense of control, if nothing else, and built her confidence.
Helping my dad with his cognitive skills
Then my dad started to really suffer from the cognitive decline associated with Parkinsonian-dementia. Once again, I had a great way to put my school and passion to use. I could help my dad like I helped my mom. His hands shook, so paper and pencil exercises would not work.
How to help without paper and pencil
Me: What did you do? That must have been very difficult for you to watch.
Ruth: I set out in search of materials and programs that might help. I did not find much that was useful. The material either treated the participants as if they were children, were too clinical or uninteresting, or they required some kind of commitment or subscription.
None of those were going to work
I decided to try looking for some puzzle and game books. The one that really caught my dad’s interest was a Spot the Difference game book published by LIFE Magazine. The photos were interesting and inspired a bit of imagination. It was not just about finding the difference between the two photos, it was also talking about the photos, and talking about what they made us think about or feel.
Cranium Crunches started to hatch
Me: How did you take this new knowledge and apply it to improving brain functionality?
Ruth: I told my son, then in his early twenties, about this cool thing that I found and he introduced me to the bar game Photo Hunt. That is where Cranium Crunches started to hatch.
I set out to create a series of photo-based puzzles that reminds us of our lives: a set of brain exercises with cross-generational appeal that provides a safe place to practice those skills that might be slipping.
This would help to work on some skills, improve focus, or just look at some cool photos and tell stories. It had to be free, require no subscription, no plan, and no commitment. Just come and play!
Me: What a great idea, Ruth. Now I understand how you got the ball rolling!
Brain games help fire pathways in the brain
Ruth: Every game and app my company uses is based on the premise that brain games help fire pathways in the brain. It keeps the chemicals and electricity that nourish and fire the brain active and moving. There is so much research out there now to support the tangible benefits of playing a variety of games and working on a variety of skills. The unifying theme though is this: active brains not only age more slowly but injured brains can also heal, re-wire, and open new pathways through an activity.
Do yourself a favor and set aside time to have fun on the Cranium Crunches website. Your brain will thank you!
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