Brain Games: Stay Mentally Active to Prevent Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s May Be Prevented
Can we reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Researchers believe so. A 2011 study published in Lancet Neurology reported that up to half of cases worldwide could be related to lifestyle factors. These include high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, depression, low education, diabetes, and lack of exercise.
Reducing this amount by just 10-25 percent could prevent as many as three million cases worldwide.
Click through the slideshow to find out how education, learning, and brain games can help protect brain health.
Brain Games May Help
Studies tell us that keeping the brain active helps to protect it. A 2012 study found that engaging in brain-stimulating activities throughout life was associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Those who stayed mentally engaged from childhood to old age had lower levels of beta amyloid in their brains.
Beta amyloid is a protein that can clump together to form hardened plaques in the brain. These plaques can destroy memory and thinking skills. They are often found in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Cognitive Activities Make a Difference
An earlier study found similar results. Researchers signed up about 800 people without dementia. Researchers rated how often the subjects participated in cognitive activities, like reading a newspaper. Each person received a “cognitive activity score” based on his or her activities.
Researchers found that even a one-point increase in score was associated with a 33 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Game #1—Learn Something New
When experts discuss ways to keep the brain active, one of the first things that usually comes up is to learn something new. The brain is rarely challenged as much as when it comes up against completely unfamiliar territory. Learning how to navigate new situations requires the creation of new messaging pathways that haven’t been forged before. Something about this process seems to encourage brain health—much like exercising works and benefits heart health.
Learn to play a musical instrument. Take up a new hobby. The greater the novelty and challenge, the bigger the benefit to your brain.
Game #2—Speak in Tongues
Learning anything new has its benefits. Picking up a second language, though, may help supercharge the brain. A 2013 study found that people who spoke two languages developed dementia four and a half years later than people who spoke only one.
It takes a lot of brain activity to speak one language while repressing the other. Just like certain exercises like swimming and martial arts work the whole body, learning a second language seems to work the whole brain.
Game #3—Read and Play Chess
Some researchers have found that leisure time activities can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. For example, adults who spend time reading and playing chess were less likely to suffer the disease than those who watched TV.
The key was stimulating the brain. Doing something active rather than passively sitting in front of the television makes the brain work harder.
Game #4—Try Computer Games
Is it really possible to ward off Alzheimer’s by playing video games? Some research suggests it might be.
In one study, scientists reviewed 5,000 studies on the prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. They found that regular intake of vitamins, herbal supplements, and medications did not reduce risk. On the other hand, mental exercise, such as that experienced during computerized memory training programs, may help.
What kind of games should people try? The main thing is to be sure they require active participation. Helpful games require you to make quick decisions, remember things, and coordinate your responses.
Scientists generally agree that doing crossword puzzles may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. So far, there’s no scientific research that shows this directly. However, it’s important to stimulate the brain on a regular basis.
You can do that by completing a few crossword puzzles, putting together an old-fashioned puzzle, or challenging yourself with a math problem. You may receive even greater benefits, however, by learning something entirely new.
Game #6—Play with Friends
Though playing games on your own stimulates your brain, inviting some friends over is even better. A 2008 study looked at 147 male twin-pairs who had a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease because of their genetic profile.
Researchers found that participants who spent their leisure time interacting with friends and family, and taking part in clubs had a much lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t.
Maintaining social connections can become more difficult with age. Experts recommend joining new clubs, taking a class, or volunteering.
Don’t Forget Your Physical Health
Mentally stimulating activities may help prevent Alzheimer’s, or even delay it if you have it. But it’s also important to remember your physical health. Good nutrition, sound sleep, regular exercise, and stress management are all important to a healthy brain.
Taking care of your heart, as well, is critical. Control high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol, and participate in regular aerobic activities like swimming, biking, or dancing.
- Alladi, Suvarna, Thomas H Bak, and Vasanta Duggirala, et al. (November 6 2013) Bilingualism delays age at onset of dementia, independent of education and immigration status. Neurology. Retrieved on Nov. 8, 2013 from http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2013/11/06/01.wnl.0000436620.33155.a4
- Barnes, Deborah E, and Kristine Yaffe. (2011) The projected effect of risk factor reduction on Alzheimer's disease prevalence. Lancet Neurology Retrieved Nov. 8, 2013 from http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422%2811%2970072-2/abstract
- Carlson, Michelle C, and Michael J Helms. (2008) Midlife activity predicts risk of dementia in older male twin pair. Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association Alzheimersanddementia.com. Retrieved Nov. 8, 2013 from http://www.alzheimersanddementia.com/article/S1552-5260%2808%2902838-0/abstract
- Friedland, Robert P, and Thomas Fritsch, et al. (2001) Patients with Alzheimer's disease have reduced activities in midlife compared with healthy control-group members. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America. Retrieved Nov. 8, 2013 from http://www.pnas.org/content/98/6/3440.abstract
- Landau, Susan M, and Shawn M Marks, et al. (2012) Association of Lifetime Cognitive Engagement and Low β -Amyloid Deposition. Archives of Neurology. Retrieved Nov. 8, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22271235
- Naqvi, Raza, and Dan Liberman, et al. (2013) Preventing cognitive decline in healthy older adults. CMAJ. Retrieved Nov. 8, 2013 from http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2013/04/15/cmaj.121448.extract
- Wilson, Robert S, and Carlos F Mendes de Leon, et al. (2002) Participation in Cognitively Stimulating Activities and Risk of Incident Alzheimer Disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. Retrieved Nov. 8, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11851541