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Family Files

Celebrate Brain Awareness Week

Picture of a brain with the words Brain Awareness Week next to it.

Brain Awareness Week (BAW) is the global campaign to foster public enthusiasm and support for brain science. BAW was founded by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI) and the European Dana Alliance for the Brain (EDAB), and is coordinated by the Dana Foundation. This is the 29th annual BAW which will be observed in 2024 on March 11-17. Research shows that lifestyle factors like sleep quality, a nutritious diet, physical exercise, decreased stress and intellectual challenge all contribute to optimal brain health. But just as important, social interactions and emotional support also enhance brain functioning.

As someone who facilitates brain health classes, I will sometimes hear from participants that they are just too old to learn new things. Not true!! Older adults can always learn new things – it just may take them a little longer depending on what it is. Some tips for learning new material include:

  • Practice, practice, and more practice. By taking the time to practice new skills over time, you firm up those important neural connections to help you learn and remember. It also provides a foundation to build on as you work to master harder tasks.
  • Get plenty of sleep to set the brain up for learning, ensuring that it has plenty of resources to spare for higher cognitive skills instead of spending them just to keep you awake and vigilant.
  • Remove or reduce distractions.
  • Reduce your stress level: like lack of sleep, anxiety can get in the way of learning.
  • Learn by doing—apply different concepts to real world activities.
  • Do not multitask. For optimal learning, it’s best to focus on one thing at a time.
  • Listening to soft background music while studying and doodling while taking notes was also mentioned as possibly helpful for retaining new information.

These tips came from the Dana Foundation article “How we learn.” The Dana Foundation is an organization that is committed to advancing brain research and to educating the public about brain health. Their website is a great resource for information and activities on neuroscience and brain health. During Brain Awareness Week, make sure and check out the Facebook page University of Illinois Extension: Around the Table for daily brain facts and puzzles.  And remember, don’t just focus on your brain health only during BAW, but look for opportunities all year long!

Source: Dana Foundation, “How we learn”

Author:  Cheri Burcham is responsible for family life programming in the counties of Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie, Shelby and other parts of east central Illinois as needed. Cheri’s emphasis is on healthy lifestyles throughout the life span which include family relationships, communication, caregiving, stress management and human development including early childhood and healthy aging. Her passion is to help people to be their best selves and to promote a healthier, independent older population. When Cheri is not engaged in Extension work, she can be found raising Monarch butterflies and spreading the word about their amazing life cycles and migration to anyone who will listen!