With the growing number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s expected to reach 16 million by 2050, Americans are wondering what they can do to prevent it, or at least delay the onset of symptoms. The Alzheimer’s Association reports a strong connection between staying both physically and mentally active and the prevention or delay of this devastating disease. Here are 5 fun and easy ways to “boost your brain!”
#1. Do More Crossword Puzzles.
Some research suggests that simply doing crossword puzzles can delay loss of memory by 2.5 years, in those affected by dementia. Crossword puzzles are thought to be an important and beneficial form of cognitive training, or a work-out for your brain. While doing these fun and engaging puzzles may not eliminate the risk of developing Alzheimer’s altogether, the literature has convincing evidence that it may help improve quality of life by increasing the number of healthy years.
One of the most popular, and easiest, brain boosting activity to potentially delay Alzheimer’s symptoms and progression is reading. Whether it is the morning paper or 1,000 page novels, reading is suggested to play a role in boosting cognitive function. One study boasts that avid elderly readers are 2.5 less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Additionally, an article published in Reader’s Digest, written by a neurologist, describes the link between reading and a higher cognitive reserve, or “a buffer against dementia”.
#3. Do Memory Exercises.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge found an increase in cognitive function and episodic memory after undergoing “brain training” via a specific iPad game. Not only did the group playing the game have positive outcomes, but they reported motivation to continue playing the game – an important part of any mental, or physical, training program. While more research is needed in this area, various studies have found a cognitive benefit, including better memory outcomes, from doing these exercises, and sometimes they are quite fun!
#4. Play Some Music.
Research is still in early stages on the biological effect of music on the brain. What has been found so far is a connection between musical training (for at least 10 years) and improved cognitive functioning throughout the lifespan. This is so important when examining possible skills and activities that could postpone or prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Musical training has been found to improve verbal memory functions as well as visuospacial judgement, both important to consider when thinking about the ageing process and development of dementia. An additional study published in the respected New England Journal of Medicine found that playing music was a “leisure activity” that was associated with a lower incidence of dementia.
#5. Play Chess.
A French study found a 15% decrease in the development of dementia in elderly participants who played board games, including chess. These types of games are considered “brain boosting” activities that stimulate the mind and actively engage the participant. The same study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also included board games as a “leisure activity” associated with a lower risk of dementia. It’s also important to note that having an active social life and staying engaged with friends has a positive correlation with the rate of cognitive decline. If you needed another excuse to get your friends together for a game night, do it for your brain!
Some of the most compelling research on delaying and/or slowing the progression of dementia is related to regular exercise. One study describes regular exercise as “a prescription” for lowering risk and slowing cognitive changes and decline. Regular exercise improves blood flow to the brain, protects against microvascular disease and heart problems, all which could contribute to the development of dementia. Exercise even strengthens and grows parts of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which play significant roles in memory and cognitive functioning.
#7. Take a class.
Whether it’s a class to learn a new skill such as cooking or an extra adult course at your community college, acquiring new knowledge and/or skills can have some protective benefit for cognition. Various studies have found a decrease in dementia rate among those with higher levels of education. The relationship is described as “complex”, but is a promising area for further dementia research. Learning new information keeps the mind engaged and being involved in classes can boost social interaction, all of which can protect against dementia. It’s recommended to find a class that will keep your interest so you are more likely to retain the information and have a positive experience in learning.
#8. Learn a language.
Adults who learn a second language in adulthood has a positive correlation to improved cognitive function later in life. Another study found that bilingual adults had a 4.5 year delay in developing dementia compared to those who only spoke one language. Additional research cites improved brain power and cognitive reserve, as well as “better compensation” for age-related cognitive changes.