Synths n dementia.?

As I understand it, Alzheimer’s is mostly calcified neural pathways that become rigid etc. Probably inaccurate on description but we all know what it is. Awful terrible thing. I have read that a significant % of Go players at the upper level have a much lower occurrence of dementia with aging compared to chess masters, possibly because of the range
of possibilities of gameplay on the Go board compared to chess or anything else.
I keep meaning to get a board & start playing Go but it slips my mind.
But they say doing tasks differently can help keep the brain limber, like brushing teeth w left hand or just changing patterns on whatever.
Controlled substances notwithstanding, I wonder how the patch/tweak crowd will land. Not to suggest any higher brain function at work when engaging with modular or semi modular but I cant think of another leisure activity so demanding of an open mind. Nonlinear abstract thinking, problem solving, work arounds, interconnectedness, synchronicity or cacophony, multiple ways of achieving objectives…the inherent mindfuck of one box telling another how fast while being told by another how high and all with a Gordian knot of cables like synapses zapping voltage with orders for oscillators like spinning the wheel on a game of Twister…but with sonic frequencies & waveforms and all that. Can’t hurt right?
What think?


Anything that pushes your brain to create new neural pathways helps to keep it healthy, and makes you less likely to develop dementia (eating well and exercise also are key). So yeah, for sure, figuring out new patches, exploring new sound design possibilities, all of that fits the bill for working the gray matter! Synths for mental fitness!


I’m in a class at the moment which is about brains music and interfaces; I will try to remember to ask the tutor about this topic when I next see them. I’m pretty sure that we discussed there have been studies that show playing music is profoundly good for brain health.


The four most important factors in delaying and/or reducing the severity of dementia of all kinds, especially Alzheimer’s , are:

  1. Positive social interaction;
  2. Healthy sleep patterns;
  3. Heart-healthy diet;
  4. Working at learning new skills

For number 4, to have any effect against mental decline, a person has to work to learn something that doesn’t come easy, like learning a foreign language or learning software coding or electronic repair. It needs to make a person’s brain really work in order to be helpful, playing at an enjoyable hobby isn’t quite the same…

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with playing with modulars or synthesizers of any kind as we get older, but sitting at home alone with a pile of esoteric equipment for hours on end probably isn’t the best way to prevent age-related mental decline.

Edited to add that this post is from someone in their fifties who has a parent who’s slowly succumbing to dementia.


just ask any model train enthusiast…


Well engaged, playing at an enjoyable hobby can indeed force the brain to create new neural pathways, which is the really working it thing. An accomplished pianist learning a difficult new piece is a good example…even though they may have strong established skills, there is effort in the mastery. Of course, a pianist playing the same known piece over and over isn’t, as you say, going to do much.

Late 40’s and in the same sad boat, although probably closer to the launch point than you are. Sucks.

Having witnessed the gradual progress of dementia in loved ones myself, I agree that too much social isolation can be a detriment.

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So sorry about what you guys are going through. Obviously social isolation is never the answer, but music can do amazing things, even listening to favorite music from one’s youth has been shown to at least temporarily bring back some memories. & I know just playing at a hobby wouldn’t help. Model train sets go around the track the same every time, & playing the same sheet music on the piano is not going to open up many doors. But that’s my point, something beyond just a hobby or pastime, beyond just replaying a memorized piece of music, but constantly making new pathways & connections by necessity isn’t just a hobby or muscle memory. I cant even duplicate a patch exactly from day to day if I had to, & I like it like that. I always try to feel like a beginner & be open to learning new things.
But I realize this is a very real thing that you are facing, that I may soon be facing as well. And most likely a playlist of favorite songs isn’t likely to be much help, no more than twiddling knobs and plugging cables in the spare bedroom.
Sorry again about your situation.

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I learned to unicycle eight years ago. I was a very slow learner. That qualifies as learning something that doesn’t come easy. Though I was a slow learner, I put in obsessive amounts of time into learning, and I succeeded in learning some more advanced technique.

On the unicycle forum, there were a few discussions about the relative value of learning tricks on both sides. For example, mounting, idling and other tricks can be learned on one side only. I chose, however, to learn everything both-sided.

When learning a mount on my “weak” side, I had to think a lot harder about what I was doing. Practicing on my “strong” side involved muscle memory, while performing on the weak side was more conceptual. Whenever I devoted time to practicing on the weak side, the strong side always benefited.

Typically, when learning a new mount, I could fail 50-100 times in one session, finally getting it once after so much failure. Then, on the next day’s practice, I would land the mount on the first time.

I unicycle in the afternoon. Upon returning from practice, I am frequently asked to accompany my wife’s violin students at the piano. After a good unicycle workout, I feel my brain is working much better. I am able to sight-read the music better.

Sadly, I have not been riding much in the last year. All that extra time has been spent making practice material for my teaching website. I don’t think this current state of affairs is awesome for my mental health. This last year has been difficult. The person I have related to most in life, my mother, passed away a year ago. I think I have become emotionally closed-off from my family.

The videos I make for students are the result of a pretty complicated process, involving the typesetting of music, table-formulas, shell scripting and batch creation of individual frames of video.

I do my best to use something called “literate programming”. Creating a process, a workflow that first and foremost can be described to a human (myself). The Emacs editor, which is at the center of my workflow, has a mode for embedding code blocks, so all the code and comments can be put into a single document.

Why is this important? Because I am not that smart, and because I get confused when I step away from a project for even a short amount of time. Obviously, what I am describing is just good programming practice. If I start “losing it”, later on, a good literate programming practice is going to help me keep working.


Can’t speak to dementia, but learning new skills (in my case, instruments) later in life (or in middle age) is fantastic. Highly recommended.


My mom absolutely lights up when she hears a song she knows, and she locks right in to singing along with it in a way that doesn’t happen when she’s trying to express her own thoughts. She is in early-mid stage dementia, but the difference is pretty incredible. It also clearly makes her very happy.

ugh, i am doomed …


Would you care to explain how you came up with your own “literate programming” system?

And “because I’m not so smart” com’on, that’s obviously self deprecation.

I didn’t make up the concept of literate programming. Nor is my programming a particularly good example of literate programming. Donald Knuth, I think, is the person to whom the phrase / concept is attributed.

I’m not sure if you’re curious about the specifics of my workflow, or the general concept of literate programming. My general workflow relies on basic level application of shell scripting, music typesetting (Gnu LilyPond) and all those nice people on the internet who shared their knowledge with the world so that other confused people like me can keep working.

When I am learning something new, I make every mistake in the book. By “not so smart”, I am referring to the concept of intelligence that says the smartest person is the one able to solve the problem using the fewest brain cells, the person able to find the straight line between points a and b, so to speak. I am not smart in this way. Since the subject of this thread is dementia, I suspect it’s important to learn things that force us to use less-efficient neural pathways.

A friend once shared some information about a set of evaluation questions used in business recruitment. The questions were varied, covering a variety of “intelligences”. The friend tried some of the questions on me. Apparently, I ranked extremely high in the ability to infer fairly accurate statistics out of general knowledge. I took a geography course in college. I did poorly on most of the exams, because they involved actual studying. Except for the lab exam. A bunch of figures were provided, and our job was to extrapolate that information in a variety of ways. The large class, as a whole, bombed the exam. I would have gotten a 100%, except I drew the corner of one of the isolines wrong on a graph of barometric pressure (so I got a 99.5%). That was one of the few times in my life I felt smart. There were many more humbling experiences. Algebra, for example. So confusing for me. I’d probably have 10 more IQ points today if I hadn’t spent all that time as an adolescent mowing grass. This was back in the day when we used leaded gasoline.

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That’s all very interesting to me. Thanks for sharing!