Dementia is in the news, movies, and magazine advertisements. A Lincoln High play featured a patient with Alzheimer’s. It figures in several mystery novels I have read recently, all by different authors. Everywhere, I hear real-life storiesof someone who is living with Alzheimer’s. Despite this swirl of dementia and Alzheimer’s around us, it is not inevitable. Only about 10% of the population at 65 and only about 30-50% of the population over 85, has it.
Even so, I guess most of us are thinking about how to prevent dementia and its most common form, Alzheimer’s, or how to slow its progression, especially if a person already has mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Much has been written about medication, so this article covers other avenues to preventing and delaying dementia. The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program, by Dr. Gary Small, presents an exercise and nutrition program specifically designed to protect the brain. “Successful Aging,” by John Rowe, M.D., and Robert Kahn, Ph.D., reports older adults who stay sharp have actively worked at it, as these three examples show: Ernest converses for one to two hours a day on current events and reads 5 books a week; Allescio completes every word challenge in the newspaper every day and never watches television; and Vera reads, plays bridge three to four times a week, does daily crosswords, and plays weekly games of Scrabble and cards. Experts in brain development have long known our brains keep growing throughout our lives, but only if we keep exerting them. Think of training for a sport: to keep progressing, you must continue to add physical challenges.
Now consider a runner cross training for swimming: new muscle groups will be used and strengthened. Similarly, researchers are beginning to see the importance of mental “cross training.”Studies by Mount Sinai Medical Center, Miami, FL and University of New South Wales, Australia show cognitive training has significant benefits for people with cognitive impairment. Cognitive challengesvary from easy to quite difficult. Here are some examples:
- Mental exercises involving sequencing and relationships between objects
- Longer term efforts, such as learning something difficult (or teaching someone else): Chess, bridge, or a new language or technology
- Learningand using memory tools: i.e., The Roman Room Method (‘Alzheimer’s Prevention Program,’ p. 64.)
We have all experienced a form of mental cross training already. Rememberwhen summer was over and the school year began? Apart from your joy or revulsion to be sitting in a classroom again, you probably felt a bit foggy, asif your brain was not working quite right. If you were like most people, you were out of practice at doing math and paying deep attention while reading. As the early school days passed, your brain fog cleared and school began to make sense again. Summer is over and mental stimulation is forever—for all of us who want to do all we can to stay sharp.
Lee Nyberg seeks to help families and those living with Alzheimer’s through education and her company, Home Care Assistance. Call today, 402-763-9140.