Language guides you through the labyrinth of communication. It is well known that the more your facility with language, the more the chances that you would not need to grope through this labyrinth. Negotiation comes easier to you. Putting your point across becomes a breeze. Is it a wonder that companies are spending huge amounts of money that their employees right down the company hierarchy have keener language acuity? But did you know that recent evidence shows that continuously challenging ourselves to gain more facility with language inhibits brain atrophy?

Yes, not only that, research suggests that our linguistic abilities even help to prevent Alzheimer’s. Gamon and Bragdon, both pundits in cognitive sciences, in their book ‘Building Mental Muscle’ write:

A growing body of evidence also supports the idea that a willingness to challenge yourself linguistically helps to maintain your brain cells. In the so-called ‘nun study’ it was found that those nuns who used a relatively complex writing style as young novitiates were much less likely to develop Alzheimer’s later in life than those nuns who wrote in a style marked by simpler, shorter sentences. So a life-long willingness to challenge yourself to grapple with complex linguistic structures may have a preventive effect against Alzheimer’s.

Our short term working memory erodes as we age. It becomes difficult to analyze complex sentences such as

Inspite having trained their guns at the pilots’ head, the Captain nevertheless refused to afford the terrorists an opportunity to hijack the plane.

‘Garden path’ sentences become harder to comprehend. A ‘Garden path’ sentence is one that leads you down a garden path in your linear word-by-word parsing. As you reach the end of the sentence you sense that what you have assimilated is utter rubbish and you need to go over it again to obtain better results. For example:

The snake slithered under the bench hissed.

Our working memory works on the principle of ‘use it or lose it’ (Gamon and Bragdon, 2003). More and more teenagers are losing the ability to do mental maths because of calculators. A similar thing can happen for your language acuity. Continuously use your brain cells to enhance this acuity or else be prepared to lose it. It is not alone for the managers and GRE/ GMAT aspirants to work on their word power enhancement (we call this process vocabletics). This is for everyone out there in streets and homes. Improve your word power; not only will you become a great communicator, you will ward off the march of the Alzheimer’s proactively. Do you have a foreboding that one of your elderly relative is at the cusp of working memory loss? The following tests adapted from Gamon and Bragdon’s book on Build Mental Muscle may help you identify:

  1. Explain to your relative that you are going to ask him to repeat a short phrase word for word. Then read the following out loud: “If you couldn’t cook, I’d drop you quicker than a box of rocks” One of the following will be the result: A.  He can’t repeat it correctly. B. He makes a mistake the first time, but gets it right the second time. C. He does it perfectly the first time.
  2. Mention a common category such as fruits, animals or vegetables, and ask your relative to list as many members of that category as he can in one minute. One of the following will happen: A. He can only think of 10 or fewer B. He can only think of 11 to 15 C. He can think of 16 or more

    Based on the results you will be able to deduce whether there are any alarm signals.

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