About 50 million people worldwide suffer from some form of dementia, and there are almost 10 million new cases diagnosed every year. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form, affecting up to 70 percent of dementia cases. While dementia is most common in older people, it is not a normal part of the aging process, and we are starting to learn that you can fight the onset of dementia with brain exercises. Here’s a look at how to get started.
It’s not just your muscles that atrophy over time, especially without use. Your brain’s cognitive function (its ability to work normally without showing signs of slowing down or memory loss) can decrease over the years as well. Fighting this slowdown requires a healthy lifestyle that includes both physical exercise and regular, targeted brain exercises designed to keep your brain healthy and active, just like your body.
One recent study showed that a short course of what is called “speed of processing” training could lead to a reduced risk of developing dementia. The study lasted for 10 years among adults aged 74 to 84. Various groups received different types of cognitive training, and the group that participated in speed of processing training - designed to increase the speed at which participants can recognize objects - showed a 29 percent decreased risk of dementia compared to the control group, which received no training.
Exercises and Activities
You probably don’t have access to special training to preventing dementia, so how can you, your family and friends make use of this concept every day? Thankfully, there are various games, puzzles and memory activities that that can minimize the kind of brain deterioration that leads to dementia. There’s not one single brain exercise that is a magic cure-all, but a wide variety of specific puzzles and even everyday activities can be helpful.
Puzzles and Games
Any kind of word or number puzzle that stimulates your brain can work here. Think crossword puzzles, sudoku, word searches, Rubik’s cubes, etc. These puzzles help you discover and remember lots of information. They also stimulate reasoning and problem solving, which are the first parts of the brain to be affected by dementia. Working these types of puzzles can not only fight memory loss, it can relieve stress by giving you something to focus on that you can quickly solve.
Other everyday activities can help as well. Look at your grocery list, and then see how many items you can remember an hour later. Learning something new and complex is good for your mind, so think about learning how to play a new musical instrument, joining a choir or playing a new sport, which is good for your physical health as well. Figure out math problems in your head instead of on a calculator - and do it while you’re walking to get some exercise in. When you visit a new place, see if you can draw a map in your head after you return home. Even small things that stimulate your brain can help, like driving home on a different route or brushing your teeth with the opposite hand.
Doing these kinds of exercises also has another benefit - they can give you an early warning sign that something may be happening in your brain. If puzzles you can normally do without a problem start to become more challenging, you will know it’s time to see a doctor.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s are not easy topics to discuss. Because dementia is affecting more and more people, though, it makes sense to focus on prevention through brain exercises. Following the tips listed above will give you the best chance to stay happy and brain healthy for years to come.
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