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Posted December 23, 2008 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Shop smart: Brain-strengthening gifts will offer a welcome challenge this holiday season

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Andy Gyurisin, co-owner of Winchester Book Gallery, places some classic books on the store’s shelves. He and co-owner Jennifer Gyurisin recommend those interested in purchasing mind-enhancing or challenging gifts for friends and family choose a good book, such as a classic. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Giving the gift of a class can offer the recipient new knowledge or skills, like this Little Tykes class at Little Thinkerz in Winchester. Here children roll marbles in boxes to make designs with paint. Dennis Grundman/Daily


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By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer

Need a last-minute gift for that hard-to-shop-for relative? Want to give a thoughtful gift that will provide entertainment as well as strengthen the brain?

With all the gift options out there, sometimes the best choice is one that encourages the imagination or provides a challenge for the user.

There's a lot to be said for traditional games, puzzles and books, which both entertain and educate.

Kim Davis, a registered nurse health educator with Valley Health Wellness Services in Winchester, says that challenging games and puzzles can improve brain function and memory.

Davis, who recently held a class at the Winchester Medical Center on mental activity and gifts to challenge the brain, says games are especially important for older adults but can help people at any age.

Some gift ideas she offers are crossword puzzles or other challenging puzzles like Sudoku, books, audio books or musical gifts such as CDs.

They also are great gifts because they can bring people together, she says, adding that social activities with other people help in many ways.

"That's really important for maintaining their brains," she says. Those who have a strong network of friends can already cope better with stress, but those who participate in brain strengthening activities with their friends will make even more progress.

Gifts people can use with their friends and family will provide a level of social interaction, as well. Gift-givers might consider paying for a class or a tour for the recipient to attend.

"We do enrichment classes," says Nanette Garver, owner of Little Thinkerz LLC in Winchester, which offers classes for children and adults.

Most of their classes cater to children, like the Little Tykes class for walkers up to age 2 or Mighty Munchkins for ages 2-4, but Little Thinkerz also offers classes like scrapbooking for adults.

"We do a lot of creative things," Garver says, listing art and science classes as some options available to customers.

Open play also is available to children, offering them time to use various types of toys like old-fashioned wooden toys by Melissa & Doug.

"[We] let them explore with fingerprints," Garver says. "We play with Oobleck," which she explains is made from cornstarch and water. "Oh, they play with it for hours. We do a lot of painting to let their creativity come through," she adds.

Gift cards are available to anyone who wishes to give the gift of a class. Prices for classes begin at $5, she says.

Board games, card games, chess and even computer brain games like Brain Age for Nintendo DS are other options that Davis recommends.

Puzzles are another option, says Andy Gyurisin, co-owner of Winchester Book Gallery at 185 N. Loudoun St. The store offers 1,000-piece puzzles that Gyurisin recommends as a different sort of hurdle to overcome.

"Those challenge my brain on a consistent basis," he says.

Buying items to facilitate a hobby will ensure the recipient enjoys the gift. Gardening tools and seed packets for a family member with a green thumb, or binoculars for one who enjoys bird-watching are just two ideas Davis offers.

Books can offer a myriad of options, from crossword puzzle books to those offering knowledge of a foreign language.

According to Gyurisin, any book will offer a challenge to the reader, assuming it's age appropriate.

"Just your typical book, I think, challenges the mind," he says. "More than a toy or a video game, I think a book will consistently challenge."

Jennifer Gyurisin, the store's co-owner, agrees. If more people pick up reading, they'll help their cognitive functioning, she says. Reading difficult literature is what she recommends for anyone seeking to increase brain functioning.

A Mind Aerobics class will be available through Valley Health beginning Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. The cost of the four-day class is $35. For more information, call 536-3050.

*Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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