One of the biggest concerns for many as they age is Dementia. It’s not Alzheimer’s, but it can still be extremely frustrating in everyday life. For many, it seems as if dementia is just a side effect of aging, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. A new study finds that keeping the brain active by writing letters and reading books can help to protect the brain from dementia. Maintaining an active brain might be helpful in fighting dementia. In fact, the study has determined that having a whole life that is mentally challenging can actually cause cognitive decline to slow, and that’s after factoring out the impact of dementia on the brain.
US researchers published their findings in Neurology, and it seems to add credibility to the way of thinking that the onset of dementia can be offset by certain factors in the lifestyle. One Alzheimer’s charity has preached a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and staying at a healthy weight to help lower the risk for dementia. For the most recent United States study, over 290 people who were over the age of 55 were asked to take tests measuring thinking and memory every year for an estimated six years, or until they died.
Included with the tests was a questionnaire asking things like if they wrote letter, read books and partook of other mentally stimulating activities throughout their lives, including when they were kids, during middle age and late in life. After the participants had died, researchers studied their brains to find evidence of physical dementia, including plaques and lesions on the brain. According to the study, after the physical signs were factored out, those that responded that they kept their brains busy through life had an estimated 15 percent slower cognitive decline rate than their less mentally challenged counterparts.
Dr. Robert Wilson, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL, and leader of the study says that researchers found that using and exercising the brain over a lifetime was essential for the health of the brain in later years. He says, “The brain that we have in old age depends in part on what we habitually ask it to do in life.” An estimated 3.4 million Americans aged 71 or older had dementia in 2002, and since them the number have likely risen, but it is not always just a part of aging. While a decline of some memory abilities may be normal, serious decline in cognition is not “just aging.” It is not clear exactly why keeping the brain active can be helpful in preventing dementia, but for many, the evidence should be enough to start doing more crossword puzzles, writing more letters and turning off the television in favor of a book or newspaper. Ultimately, adding brain exercises to a healthy, active lifestyle complete with staying slim, is still likely the best way to offset potential memory problems as people age.