Welcome to the New Year and a new decade! As we all consider our New Year resolutions, we wanted to offer some fun options for self-improvement for consideration because if you aren’t continuously improving then you are falling behind. We have no fiduciary interest in any of the apps we describe and we recognize that there may be other apps in these categories – these are just a few of our favorites. Additionally, we make no guarantees regarding results, like anything, outcomes are related to effort.
One of the best ways to improve brain function is to learn another language. Not only can that help us in our jobs relate better with patients that may speak another language, but multiple studies have demonstrated bilingualism improves the brain’s executive function. Learning another language supports our ability to ignore distractions and to stay focused. Learning another language is one of the most effective and practical ways to increase intelligence, keep your mind sharp, and buffer your brain against aging. There is an old joke – “What do you call a person that speaks two languages – bilingual; three language – trilingual; one language – American.” Let’s not be “that person!” A fun and easy app for learning a new language is Duolingo. The app is free and Duolingo lessons adapt to individual learning styles. Exercises are tailored to help learn quickly and review vocabulary effectively.
Closely related to learning a new language is improving skills in our primary language and one great way to do that is to expand our vocabulary. Developing a great vocabulary is one of the most overlooked ways to improve our lives and create both personal and professional benefits. Multiple studies have shown that no matter what we do for a living, our vocabulary level is the best single predictor of occupational success. A good “word of the day” app is Vocabulary.com. This app combines the dictionary with a fun adaptive learning game. Vocabulary.com provides a platform for lifelong learning, and it grows with learners so that, as improvement happens, the words become more and more advanced.
As we age inevitably we all must deal with presbyopia and the resulting loss in visual acuity. The main culprit is a loss of elasticity in the lens. However, there is also a neurological component that impacts our vision. As sight becomes more “blurry,” the brain’s ability to discern contrast is hampered which reduces how smoothly our neurons can stream visual data to our brains. Presbyopia essentially “chokes” visual processing which slows down our ability to read and react. Dr. Uri Polat and his team at the Neuroscience Lab Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv have conducted extensive research on neuroplasticity and the ability to train our brains to process these diminished visual signals more effectively. The results have been impressive. Testing on Israeli fighter pilots showed an average improvement in visual clarity of 35% and responsiveness to visual cues improved 25%. Dr. Polat discusses his studies and works in the MillenialEye: https://millennialeye.com/articles/2014-may-jun/max-out-your-vision-using-brain-plasticity/. Dr. Polat has created an app, Glasses Off, for $10/month which provides neuroplasticity training which ideally should be done for 15 minutes 3X/week.
This same neuroplasticity approach also is being applied to help improve hearing. In their study Auditory Training: Evidence for Neural Plasticity in Older Adults, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4254805/, Anderson and Kraus document overall results indicating that the brain remains malleable through older adulthood provided that treatment algorithms have been modified to allow for changes in learning with age. Improvements in speech-in-noise perception and cognition function accompany neural changes in auditory processing. The training-related improvements noted across studies support the need to consider auditory training strategies in the management of individuals who express concerns about hearing in difficult listening situations. Clearworks4ears.com is a comprehensive neuroplasticity training program for $24.99/month that was created at Washington University in St. Louis to focus on improving speech discrimination or the ability to recognize words accurately.
Finally, with the pace of change accelerating and things coming at us faster and in greater amounts, stress and burnout are inevitable risk factors. There are a number of apps designed to help reduce stress. Headspace is one that offers hundreds of meditations on everything from stress to sleep to focus and anxiety. They note that 30 days of Headspace lowers stress by 32%, and just 4 sessions reduce burnout by 14%, while 4 weeks of Headspace can increase focus by 14%, and just a single session cuts mind-wandering by 22%.
These are just a few options for improvement but whether you explore any of these apps or choose other programs, commit to some type of plan to make 2020 your best year ever!