The neuro-psychology test results on my patients often referred to The Wisconsin Card Sorting Test. Unwisely asking one of the techs what it was, I found myself in her office as she her gleefully tortured me for 10 minutes. Notice to family: do not ever let a neuropsych give me this test!!! (Some of you may recall that I have also forbidden crossword puzzles.)
The WCST measures cognitive flexibility: “ . . .broadly described as the ability to adjust one’s thinking from old situations to new situations as well as the ability to overcome responses or thinking that have become habitual and adapt to new situations.” This skill, known to decline with aging, was often addressed in our speech therapy sessions.
An example: you are at the grocery store purchasing items for your signature shrimp dish for a dinner party when you remember that one of the guests is allergic to shellfish. Quick! Change your menu, preparation plans, and shopping list.
A live test was presented to me last week and I failed. Mike and I were enjoying a couple of nights with my Big Bro and Sister-in-law at their cabin in the mountains, planning to retreat to Flagstaff for the weekend when Bro and Sil returned home. Unbeknownst to me who is trying to hide her head in the sand during the 2020 chaos, it was prime “leaf peeping” weekend as the beautiful aspens were turning gold. We spent an hour on our devices trying to find a room in Flagstaff. The following day, with Flagstaff overrun with peepers, we retreated once again to the cabin’s front porch minus Bro and Sil. Until that point it had not occurred to me that we could have used the cabin for those two nights. To be honest, four of us failed that test.
Do something you know how to do, but do it differently (and often).
Pursue new challenges and experiences.
Meet new people.
During a church remodel, I took the opportunity to rearrange the handbell tables in a unique formation for a rehearsal. Protests were many, loud. and persistent. I stubbornly advised the players: this is good for your brain! Yes, I probably shouted it with exclamation points. Everyone returned the following week so no one died.
Encouraging cognitive flexibility doesn’t require that you master a new skill. Just as my holding a plank for 15 seconds (my current max, down from 30 pre-knee surgery) benefits me more than not trying, attempting a new language or trying to understand a difficult concept will exercise those neurons. Working toward mastery is great, but at this point in life, any movement physical and mental is beneficial.
Last weekend I had made plans and could not get off that path to look at alternatives. And no one else did either. We are getting old!