How a lost mobile phone made me think that bit harder

  • Find out why little lapses are nothing to worry about
  • Discover the simple memory exercises that you can do every day
  • A timely warning about a hidden danger

I’d lost my mobile phone.

Couldn’t find it anywhere – despite looking through every drawer, on every shelf and under every table, it was a proper look too not just a ‘man look!’

‘Am I going mad?’ I asked my wife, as she stepped out into the garden with the laundry.

‘Where did you last have it?’ said Lara.

‘I have no idea,’ I growled, proceeding to check all the places I’d already looked for the second time.

Have you ever experienced this? The lost car key moment?

It’s as if an entirely different person takes over your life for half an hour each day.

During those 30 minutes, these evil alter-egos put your valuables in the most unexpected places possible. . . just to drive you insane. . .

‘Ray,’ said Lara, stepping back into the house, ‘the flower bed appears to be ringing.’

Upon closer inspection, we discovered that the phone was in amongst a lavender bush along with one of the dog’s balls and several clothes pegs.

So unless we had discovered our faithful hounds secret stash, I suspect that the phone fell out of my pocket when I was refilling the bird feeder and I hadn’t noticed.

But forgetfulness can be frightening, can’t it? It makes you wonder if the ageing process is slowing your mind down.

Also, in a society where we live longer, it does leave us more vulnerable to brain diseases like dementia.

But, as you’re about to see, it is possible to exercise your mind to keep it fit and healthy well into old age.

Use your brain… or lose it

The problem is that you get used to a routine.

All those daily tasks you’ve done for years become automatic. You learn fewer and fewer new skills as you get older, and repeat more and more of the old habits.

But the brain is like a muscle. It needs constant workouts to keep it strong.

Even more importantly, it needs exercise to protect itself from dementia.

This was confirmed by Dr Joe Verghese and his fellow researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Their study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine says that ‘Reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments and dancing were associated with a reduced risk of dementia’.

And the more challenging the mental workout, the better!

Susanne Sorensen, of the Alzheimer’s Society, says:

‘This confirms the ‘use it or lose’ it school of thought which provides evidence that complex and precise brain activity can build up a brain reserve that may protect people from Alzheimer’s disease later in later life.’

In other words, if you take specific measures to exercise your brain, you can lower the risk of developing conditions as terrible as Alzheimer’s. Here are some of the best suggestions I have gathered from the internet. . .

Brain exercises to keep your mind healthy

Get some of these little exercises into your daily routine, and you’ll keep your mind as sharp as a pin – well into your 100s!

  • Recite the alphabet backwards. Keep practising until you can do this fluently.
  • Follow the second hand of a clock closely for a minute. Now try closing your eyes for exactly a minute.
  • Play a game of chess every day. If you don’t know how – then learn! If you can’t find a partner, try the many electronic versions that are available. You can get a good, hand-held chess machine for less than £30. (I got one for my brother last Christmas from John Lewis.)
  • Do the daily crossword. Or Su Doku the new Japanese puzzle that’s ‘the biggest thing since the Rubik’s Cube’ (apparently). Number and word games are ideal brain exercises.
  • Take up a musical instrument. Even if it seems difficult or embarrassing, this is crucial to your mental health, so give it a go. Get a book and learn each note, then begin to learn simple tunes. Practise every day. And, repeat after me, ‘You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!’
  • Memorise a poem or song lyric every week. As the weeks go by, build up a bigger and bigger stockpile or remembered poems. Just think how impressed your friends will be!
  • Pick up a book and turn it upside down. Now try to read from the bottom to the top. You brain will really be stretched with this one, as you struggle to grasp words and sentences.

Most importantly of all, have fun with these mind games.

Now for the serious bit…

We haven’t had the most spectacular of summers but I have been reading that instances of skin cancer are increasing, even for those who don’t spend days on the sun bed.

Here are a few useful bits of advice that I have been able to put together for you…

How to spot hidden skin cancers

This summer you’ll read a lot of hoo-ha in the papers about how much sun is good for you. . . what factor sun- cream you should wear, and so on.

But what you read less about is how to spot skin cancer. . . especially dangerous ‘hidden melanomas’.

While people are checking their backs, legs, shoulders and arms for melanomas, they ignore crucial areas of the body where skin cancer occurs.

So here are hidden areas of the body where you should regularly check for signs of skin cancer.

  1. Eye – melanoma can occur in the lining of your eyelid or the thin coating within your eyeball. Look out for a persistent scratchy feeling beneath the eyelid or a dark spot on the eyeball.
  2. Nail – a melanoma beneath the finger or toenail accounts for 2% of melanomas in white-skinned people, and 30%-40% in non-whites. Look out for a wide, black streak underneath the nail that hasn’t occurred because of a recent injury. . . especially if the streak gets bigger over time.
  3. Scalp – hair often hides melanoma on your scalp. Look for lesions that have recently appeared. Melanomas are usually wider than 6mm, but can be smaller. The shapes are irregular, with varied colouring. To detect them, use a blow dryer to part the hair.

Also remember the genital area, too.

These are not the most common areas for cancer, but it’s worth staying on the safe side, isn’t it?

And please don’t feel embarrassed or cautious about getting a professional check-up every year – whatever age you are.

Yours, as always

Ray Collins