Mom might have told you that cartoons will rot your brain, but Chuck Jones knew otherwise.
The creator of the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin Martian and so many other Looney Tunes pals, Jones used his creativity and his wit to stay eternally young at heart.
Now studies show that creativity like Jones' can help a person stay young cognitively too.
When you activate an area of the brain, it works like a muscle. It gets bigger and functions more efficiently. MRI studies have revealed that creative activity activates more brain areas than just about any other kind of activity.
It is therefore possible that creative pursuits can help prevent damage from dementia, an exciting theory that suggests that by adding more creativity to our lives we all can do something to help delay or minimize the ravaging effects of Alzheimer's and other devastating cognitive diseases.
That is why the Orange County Vital Brain Aging Program at Hoag Hospital is partnering with the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity in Costa Mesa for an event Friday to highlight the importance of creativity for cognitive health.
Jones, who continued drawing until just a month before succumbing to congestive heart failure in 2002 at age 89, intuited that creativity was not something that some people had and others did not. Creativity is quantifiable, understandable and, most importantly, teachable.
Creativity is a natural function of the brain, an approach to solving problems that we all access whenever an answer isn't perfectly clear. Whether you're a painter or a pencil-pusher, you probably engage in creative problem-solving every day. When confronted with a problem, you are likely to draw upon your accumulated knowledge about the topic, brainstorm to identify potential solutions and then analyze and select one solution that makes sense in the context of the problem.
What the program at Hoag and the Center for Creativity hope to do is teach people how to unlock that creativity more often. We also hope to work together to measure creativity's effect on the brain.
The partnership represents a bit of creative thinking from Hoag and the Chuck Jones Foundation. Taking an icon of our culture and marrying it to a scientific approach is incredibly exciting, and we are eager to see what insights into brain aging we draw (pun intended).
Much research has been done on the palliative effect of art therapy for patients suffering dementia. What new research is finding, however, is that art, drawing, dance, singing and other pursuits also seem to help "reroute" communication pathways, bypassing some of the significant problems of dementia.
This doesn't mean that drawing can cure Alzheimer's. But it does suggest that maintaining an active, engaged brain might be just as important to brain health for people in their 50s and 60s as cardiovascular exercise is to heart disease prevention.
In his autobiography, Jones wrote, "Perhaps the most accurate remark about me was uttered by Ray Bradbury at his 55th birthday party. In answer to the usual question: 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' Ray replied: 'I want to be 14 years old like Chuck Jones.' Perhaps this will be my most apt possible epitaph."
And perhaps it will be the secret that unlocks true hope in the battle against Alzheimer's and other cognitive diseases.
To learn more about how unlocking creativity can help keep your mind sharp, please join us for a family-friendly event at 6 p.m. Friday at Hoag Conference Center, 1 Hoag Drive, Newport Beach. Information is available at http://www.Hoag.org/brainhealth.