Thursday, January 24, 2013

2012- Phew!

     Without writing a long drawn out newsletter of the problems or even my current situation I wanted to tell everyone what the past year has been like and it seems that the old adage may be true after all. It's simply this: a picture is worth a thousand words.

The year started out something like this:

and ended up more like this:

 and I'm still trying to get it all untangled.

The Castle Lady

has plenty of resources ! 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Norway- A Year in Retrospect

The United States has had more than its share of gun violence this year. I don't really have the desire to list all of it but I thought it might help get more of this into perspective to take a look on the other side of the world where they are grieving still at the tragedy in Norway. On July 22, 2011 a right-wing extremist picked up an assault weapon and killed no less than 77 people- eight at a Government building by bombing and 69 summer campers on Utoya Island. Most of his victims were mere teenagers. For this heinous, premeditated attack that was clearly a case of political terrorism he received a sentence of only 21 years this past summer after he made sure he was declared sane before he went to trial. Instead of showing any remorse over this act he was allowed to speak at the sentencing. He basically told everyone that his only remorse was that he didn't kill more people and apologized to his 'militant nationalist constituents' for not achieving an even higher death toll.
     This is the true profile of what I call a monster in society. They are not dangerous to themselves- only those who disagree with them or they perceive to be some type of threat. A pretrial assessment that this man is sane, however, is a travesty that becomes a necessity when we realize that there are certain criminals who cannot be rehabilitated with any assurance that they would be safe for society. I cannot even begin to understand how someone becomes this evil and I'm sure that in some ways I don't want to know. We can't afford not to try to understand, however. It has become too prevalent, persistent and rampant.
     I'm not that interested in stopgap procedures for trying to curtail an epidemic that is out of control. Gun laws are in many ways so insufficient that it seems to have no effect. We already have gun laws in the U.S. and yet it didn't stop this from being a record breaking year for all types of gun violence. When I read about the trial this past summer in Norway there was an article on the shoot out in New York City (between a lone gunman and police in which 9 innocent people were shot just by being in the line of fire) right next to it. Obviously, guns do not stand trial- but people do and should for these acts, premeditated or otherwise. Should we take guns out of the hands of the police force? Then what ?
     Perhaps gun laws should be studied a little closer for the actual uses and more control should be exerted on gun makers- particularly those who make assault weapons. Instead of having several factions as separate entities, fighting over civil rights specters, we should have all (gun makers and owners, law enforcement, politicians, law makers and victims of violence) come together to make agreements about how we're going to deal with the fact that too many innocent people are being blown away by guns that were intended for war. This makes more sense than letting only people who feel more secure by owning guns to lead the way with the NRA and other gun rights coalitions. Obviously, gun laws affect all of us so we should all have a voice in what types of laws are dispensed by our government. It's the only right and fair choice for a democracy.
     Remember the 70s adage When guns are outlawed then only outlaws will have guns?  This is not passé. It has become a reality. Let's all vow that in 2013 we're going to turn violence around and start dealing with the people who perpetrate it. It's imperative that we do it now.
Sincerely submitted by
The Castle Lady

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Improving Your Memory

       One of the most common complaints I hear from the people around me is that they have trouble remembering important information such as names, dates and even in the process of doing household concerns from room to room (i.e. I came in here for something but now I can't remember what it was). I occasionally have trouble remembering people's names if I don't purposely use my secret device for memorizing. It's so easy almost no one would think it works. When I first hear a name I repeat it in my mind and try to associate it with someone of a similar or the same name. Then I make up a sentence in my mind using that person's name and if it rhymes, all the better. Then I make sure I repeat the person's name before I leave their presence and it reinforces my being able to repeat it when I need to say it the next time I see them. The reason why it works is because you engage different parts of your brain in the process of engaging your memory resources. You'll find it is not so complex once you try it but consciously making an effort to go through the process of remembering requires practice just like everything else. Some people are referred to as having a lazy mind if they don't utilize these efforts. To me, it's just making memorizing a good habit.
     Last year I came across an article written by Madonna Behen who also has a systematic way of improving memory. Her seven points are good and even seem a little unconventional which may help or hinder you depending on the way in which your brain memorizes data and images. Her technique is the result of interviewing experts on cognition and aging but much of the following has more to do with tapping your brains resources than trying to beat the clock on a so-called aging brain.
     Her first point was basically to paint mental pictures. She interviewed a self-proclaimed world memory champion by the name of Ed Cooke to tackle remembering names. His advice was to make the memorization process as vivid as possible. The examples were the following:
        To remember the name Andrew Bush you can picture a bush with lots of hands in it. To memorize the name Martin Van Buren you could visualize a Martian in a van that's burning !
     Rather flamboyant ways work for some but not for everyone. It may be worth a try for yourself. Get back to me on that !
     Her second point touches on learning large bodies of text that you may need to take tests with or it's crucial to keep the details well in your mind. In this case she says to switch things up which means to convert the reading material into a typeface that you don't necessarily use much or even like. The reasoning behind this tactic is that by being a little more difficult or challenging to read it will make you focus better on the actual material. Apparently a study done by psychologists at Princeton and Indiana University did various studies with adult groups divided into two. One group read in a popular typeface and the others in fonts that were unfamiliar to them. The latter mentioned group did significantly better on tests of the material than the first group.
     This may not work at all for people with dyslexia. Apparently, it's enough of a challenge reading plain, ordinary text because of their visual to brain disorder so the preference for plain writing may be crucial to understanding at all. If you have any reason to suspect that this is a problem you may want to be tested for dyslexia.   
     Thirdly, verbalizing data such as names can also be extremely helpful- as I mentioned in my own technique- because it aids in strengthening the neural connections in our brains. She quoted a Pomona College psychologist by the name of Deborah Burke:
     "The reason names are so problematic is that there's no way around it, while with other words you can usually substitute something else."  She cited rehearsing the persons name and speaking it out loud as a way of reinforcing memory.
     On the fourth point she used an old adage of use it or lose it. Exercising the brain in other ways than the norm and making it a challenge can help immeasurably. One way to do so is by taking up learning new languages- not just one other. If you are bilingual, adding another language is optimal and increases your overall use of language in the same way playing a game of scrabble can increase your use of one. This also helps strengthen connections in our brain.
     Her fifth point chocks up a notch for social media especially if it involves one-on-one communication. Book clubs are extremely beneficial but she also mentioned online communication, which obviously involves texting rather than oral communication, such as Twitter and Facebook. I have amazed myself a couple of times IM'ing to people in quite a few different languages. Even though I am not verbally fluent in Portuguese I have had no trouble with online chatting with my friends in South America. It's clear that there's something to this which no one has made obvious. Apparently, though, written communication, according to Madonna, increases language production.
     The sixth way is something no one would even guess. It's simple. Go for a walk. Backed by Gary Kennedy of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Madonna wrote that exercise helps the brain sprout new connections between neurons, simply put. It is especially true in the part of the brain called the hippocampus which controls the working memory and it is the part that is most susceptible to problems from aging. Studies have suggested that regular exercise might slow or prevent memory deterioration. The University of Pittsburgh study for adults in their 60s basically took brisk, 40-minute walks three times a week and scored better on memory tests than the same age group who were sedentary. 
     Lastly, the best deal was getting a good night's sleep. If you do such things as cram for tests you may be doing more harm than good for your education. The backfire to this sort of stopgap scholarship is that it can leave you fuzzy minded and unclear in your thinking. The other problem is that interrupted sleep can also impair your abilities and cause other problems physically. Getting a full eight to ten hours of sleep was not nearly as effective as less sleep time without interruption.
     In a sidebar to Madonna's article there was a special comparison list to determine if you or someone you love may be experiencing the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease. On a split between true signs of the disease and normal age-related changes it lists Alzheimer's characteristics as:
        Poor judgment and decision making, consistently.
        Inability to manage a simple budget.
        Losing track of the date or the season constantly.
        Difficulty having  or following a conversation.
        Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them.
     Typical age-related changes would involve occasionally making a bad decision, missing a monthly payment but rarely, forgetting which day it is and remembering it later. It is also normal for those approaching advanced age to forget words or which word to use, specifically and losing or leaving personal effects behind occasionally. My own criteria involves seeing anything unusual in the behavior that would indicate a drastic change. My mother used to call her own children by each others names sometimes crossing into the other genders! She might call me by my sister's name but my brother could also be called by her name as well and she was a young woman at the time. She was the typical absent-minded, artistic genius. She never did cross over into Alzheimer's but many of the things she did and encountered in her life would have indicated that she had early Alzheimer's. At any rate, getting lost just walking around the block should make bells go off.
     I hope this was helpful and if you have any other suggestions or ideas feel free to put them in the comments.
The Castle Lady
with the latest advice !