Ten Surprising Facts About Using Brain Training To Fight Dementia

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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'Use it or lose it' is a phrase originally coined to express the benefits of keeping physically fit, but it is equally valid when applied to brain fitness. Numerous studies have shown that regular brain training sessions -- aptly referred to as neurobics in some circles -- can help stave off dementia and even the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

In honor of National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, brain fitness program developer Dakim, Inc., shares information about how to give your gray matter a good workout, why the right kind of exercise can fortify your mental capacities, and what research says about using brain calisthenics to defend yourself against memory loss.

1 -- Mental decline is not inevitable. In recent years researchers have found that adults can actually grow new brain cells, reversing a long-held belief that brainpower lost in the aging process cannot be regenerated.

2 -- You can build a 'savings account' of extra neurons -- known as a cognitive reserve -- that can help offset those you lose as you age. A 2006 data analysis in the Public Library of Science's PLoS One journal estimated that a mere 5 percent increase in the cognitive reserve has the potential to prevent one third of Alzheimer's cases worldwide.

3 -- Frequent cognitive activity can reduce dementia risk up to 63%. That was the conclusion of the Bronx Aging study, which followed a group of 75- to 85-year-olds for many years. Those who participated frequently in activities such as reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing a musical instrument, or playing board games or cards were 63% less likely to develop dementia than those with less lively cognitive calendars.

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4 -- Brain training may slow Alzheimer's effects. One oft-cited case is that of Richard Wetherill, a retired university lecturer and talented chess player who became concerned when he could see only five chess moves ahead instead of eight. Although neurologic tests were normal, an autopsy when he died soon after revealed advanced Alzheimer's disease, suggesting that the condition had been kept in check by bolstering his brain with chess and other intellectual 'push-ups.'

5 -- A short-term brain workout program is not enough. Many studies indicate that the benefits of cognitive training are lost if it is not done on a regular basis. Consistent, long-term mental stimulation appears to be the key to reducing the risk of memory loss and dementia.

6 -- If you don't enjoy it, you will fail. That's because you won't stick with anything that's too boring or too hard. Choose fun activities or brain fitness programs that self-adjust the level of challenge for different ability levels.

7 -- Cross-training counts. Focusing solely on bridge, sudoku or any other single activity will not exercise all of the cognitive domains considered necessary to keep brains agile. Combining activities that address areas such as short- and long-term memory, critical thinking, visuospatial orientation, calculation and language is a better strategy.

8 -- Teaching your old brain some new tricks can help. Learn a new language, take saxophone lessons, teach yourself how to use an iPod or iPhone -- anything that flexes your mental muscles can contribute to building new brain circuits.

9 -- Even people with dementia may see improvements. In one case, a woman who had not spoken a word for a year suddenly resumed speaking after completing a Dakim [m]Power Cognitive Fitness System exercise containing piano music. Her first sentence: "I wish I had learned to play piano when I was a little girl."

10 -- Physical exercise is brain exercise, too. Cardiovascular and strength training also boost brainpower by generating more blood flow to the brain, supplying oxygen and nutrients, and promoting the growth of new brain cells. In other words, aerobics and neurobics go hand in hand.

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