Losing your mental function like memory retention and reasoning, are among the biggest problems that the older generation face. Dementia is one of them, with Alzheimer’s disease as its common cause. Medical researchers are trying to determine how to slow down or possibly reverse the effects of these diseases through brain training.
• Understanding Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are often interchanged. Dementia refers to weakened memory and mental health. Alzheimer’s disease is said to have caused about 50 to 60% of dementia cases. Other possible cause of dementia are Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, stroke, excessive alcohol and drug use, nutritional deficiencies, head injuries and illnesses related to the brain.
Alzheimer’s disease starts slowly. The areas that get affected first are those concerned with memory, language and reasoning. Eventually, these symptoms would become more serious, like forgetting essential functions for personal care. The risk of having Alzheimer’s starts once a person reach 60 years old. Risks are also greater if a family member has the disease.
Worldwide, there are said to be 24 million people who are suffering from a certain form of dementia. If not addressed immediately, the number could reach 84 million by 2040. The Alzheimer’s Association in the United States, listed 4.5 million cases of Alzheimer’s disease in 2004.
• Brain Training
Brain exercises could help in delaying the onset of dementia. According to the study led by Dr. Charles B. Hall from the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Einstein College of Medicine, New York; engaging in leisurely brain exercises like reading, writing and card playing could reduce memory decline.
In their study, they observed 488 respondents ranging from 75 to 85 years old. The study lasted for five years and the participants have no form of dementia at the beginning of the research. After five years, about 101 of the respondents developed dementia.
In their study, the respondents are encouraged to participate in leisure activities like solving crossword puzzles, playing card and board games, also reading and writing. Those who have only performed one activity each week and who have not performed anything at all, developed dementia.
Alzheimer effects on the brain could also be slowed down by brain training as showed in the case of Richard Wetherhill. A skilled chess player and a university lecturer, Wetherhill underwent neurological exams getting normal results. But when his body was autopsied after his death, tests showed that he had developed advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Apparently, the effects of disease were slowed down through playing chess and other brain exercises.
When training the brain, it is important to do different cognitive exercises. It is not enough to focus on one form only like a card game. There are different kinds of brain exercises which can be used like puzzles, optical exercises and illusions, math, reasoning and language exercises.
Brain training is also not only mental exercises. Physical exercises are also important in developing better mental health. Exercise would feed oxygen to the brain, making the blood flow more efficiently and result in growth of new brain cells.
In the study, people above 70 years old are subjected to training. Health experts agree that it is better to start early. Brain training could be done before reaching 60 years old, allowing more time for the brain to explore different kinds of training and exercises.