Although there has been a lively commercial market for “brain training” games over the last few years, there have been recent challenges. One company has been sued for making inappropriate claims for their on line exercises. You can’t any longer claim that any of these activities prevents dementia, but that does not mean there is no point to using mental activity to stay well.
Here are five tips for keeping your mind active.
1. If you don’t use it, you lose it…keep thinking and doing
A lawyer with dementia that I met last year demonstrated how mental activity can protect against dementia symptoms, even if it has no effect on the underlying disease. Sadly she was one of a family of children who had all inherited working age or early onset dementia from their father. Some of the brothers and sisters had gone to college and the others had not. The ones who went to college developed their symptoms ten years later than the others.
The extra brain capacity from doing formal education had given an element of protection for a period of time. It might be rather late for you to go and get a degree in law, but evidence for the positive effect of extra education is getting stronger.
2. Meet with other people and talk about things; gossip is good!
People who have a richer social life seem to have some protection against dementia. How does this work? Well, just keeping up with other people in itself is a mental exercise. You have to work out how and when to meet and turn up. Meeting with others goes a long way to cheering you up (pick your friends carefully and don’t spend time with toxic people!) and it appears that people who suffer from depression which leads to loneliness and isolation are more likely to get symptoms of dementia. Even once dementia has been diagnosed, socialising seems to make a big difference. If it is combined with exercise then that is even better.
3. Take part in new activities
You could join a book group and read new things. Take up volunteering. There are groups near you who need a wide range of supporters, such as cake bakers, knitters, people to read stories to children, people to talk to others on the phone… You probably have skills that you can pass on to others about which you don’t give a second thought. Make sure you do pass them on. Choose a voluntary organisation that is properly organised and offers induction programmes and support to make sure you are doing the right thing.
4. Learn how to do a new dance; exercise helps your brain as well
It might not be that you have recently gone dancing much. Most local authority leisure centres offer salsa classes or similar opportunities to do movement to music and that is great if you’ve got a partner to go with. I like the aquarobics classes where you “dance” to the music, but in the swimming pool and on your own within a group. The rhythm is good, as is the company of the other people. The encouragement and supervision of the class leader gets you to stretch to your limits without injury. What is good for your heart is also good for your head and it keeps you feeling cheerful.
5. Bingo, crosswords… whatever hobby you are most likely to stick with, keep it up.
The research shows that mental puzzles don’t always offer a global improvement in your mental function but there is definitely a connection between keeping a lively mind and staying well. At one point everyone was raving about Sudoku, and that kind of puzzle is great. But not if you don’t like it. Whichever appeals to you most, is what you are most likely to persevere with, so take your pick. You can find out more here.