Over the years, I’ve noticed that the first signs of cognitive decline and dementia often appear as the loss of memory regarding nouns. A key indicator seems to be the substitution of the word “things” in place of the names for ordinary items. Even common synonyms aren’t available, so “things” becomes the go-to noun. This is a useful work-around, but also can be a signal that word-recall capabilities have begun to diminish.
But what if there was a way, a kind of word therapy already available to us, to slow down this loss?
Some background: Psycholinguists agree that our vocabularies help determine the richness of our thoughts. Knowing words helps us know ideas. The larger our vocabularies, the greater our cognitive capabilities. Neuroscientists have known for years, too, that individuals who seem to delay the pathologies of dementia have greater “cognitive reserves”, perhaps the result of a larger brain with higher neuronal connectivity. Cognitive reserves strongly correlate with learning, social interaction, physical activity, bilingualism and an enriched environment—e.g., experiences, interests, hobbies, curiosity. Some of these lifestyle characteristics are associated with practiced literacy—word use.
These findings suggest that we might retain or strengthen those cognitive reserves by regular activities that enrich our working vocabularies. These actions might include solving word puzzles, playing games, writing (e.g., journals, blogs, letters), engaging in conversation, adding new skills and knowledge, learning or practicing another language and reading.
Those of us who follow Christ—The Word—may have another source of well-being: The hearing, sharing and study of Scripture. We try to integrate God’s Word into our ways of relating to others. We know Jesus by his words, and we measure our lives by his teachings.
Whatever our levels of cognitive reserve, we can be grateful for the Word and words—gifts of God!
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