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AARP National Spelling Bee: Mental Fitness Challenge for Nevada

April 14, 2010

LAS VEGAS - Old dogs really can learn new tricks, and how to train grown-up brains is going to be part of the discussion at this year's AARP National Spelling Bee in June, in which spellers from Nevada and around the country will compete. Organizers of the annual competition say spellers have often requested information about how to stay mentally sharp, so a mental fitness workshop has been added to the schedule.

New York Times health editor Barbara Strauch will lead the event. She's written extensively about brain research, and points out that many long-running beliefs about the aging brain have turned out to be wrong.

"For many years, people thought you lost 30 percent of your brain cells as you age. Now they've looked inside real brains and find out that's not happening. The trick, then, is to keep them in decent shape."

While it's true that people in their 40s through 60s often complain about forgetting names, or where they put the car keys, Strauch says it isn't a sign of brain deterioration. In fact, she wants middle-agers to know, their ability to problem-solve and see bigger-issue solutions is superior.

"We, as a group, are already entering middle age and old age better than the generations before us. We do much better on cognitive tests than people who were our age even 20 years ago."

She says physical health and control of chronic health conditions can help keep older brains in better condition. Practice helps too, according to Strauch, with researchers finding that those who view themselves as "lifetime learners" often have a cognitive edge.

The mental fitness workshop is free. There is a $30 entry fee for the spelling bee itself, and those who want to compete in the event June 18-19 can sign up online at aarp.org

The annual spelling bee is held at the Little America Hotel and Resort in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Barbara Strauch has written a book, "The Secret Life of the Grownup Brain," which will be released later this month.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV