In the landmark publication of a study in the August 4, 2009 issue of Neurology, it was reported that people engaged in brain exercises (brain training) such as reading, writing and playing card games may delay the onset of rapid memory decline that occurs if they later develop dementia.
There was a cautionary adjunct to that happy news. It declared that while “there is evidence that brain exercises do work to slow down cognitive decline”, there was also evidence that the really elderly will not benefit from it.
To be effective, the study said, these brain training needs to be started while people are still in the 60s or 70s. These people need “early life education and participation in cognitively stimulating leisure activities later in life. These are the two factors…which may have delayed the onset of memory decline in the preclinical stages of dementia.”
Brain training facts
Nevertheless, the study results point to the old phrase (directed at first to the benefits of physical exercise) “use it or lose it” as equally valid for mental fitness, too. Previous studies had also shown that regular brain training sessions can help ward off dementia and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
The following list gives out reasons why the right kind of mental exercises can fortify your brain. It also reiterates what research says about using brain calisthenics to defend yourself against memory loss.
(1) Mental decline is not inevitable. Adults can actually grow new brain cells. This reverses the long-held belief that lost brainpower caused by aging cannot be recovered anymore.
(2) You can build a set of extra neurons (cognitive reserve) in your brain to help offset those you had gradually lost as you aged. A data analysis published in a journal says that a mere 5% increase in the cognitive reserve can prevent one-third of Alzheimer’s cases.
(3) Frequent cognitive activities can reduce dementia risk by up to 63%.
(4) Brain training may slow the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Upon the death of a patient (not from Alzheimer’s), his autopsy revealed advanced Alzheimer’s. doctors concluded his chess-playing may have helped kept the disease in check.
He had also kept his condition in check by bolstering his brains with chess and other intellectual “push-ups.”
(5) Cross-training counts. Focusing only on a single mental activity will not exercise all the cognitive domains needed to keep the brains agile. Furthermore, consistent and long-term mental stimulation appears to be the key to reducing risk of memory loss and dementia.
If you can, also include activities that address areas for short-term and long-term memories, critical thinking, visual and spatial orientation, calculation and language.
(6) Teaching the brain new tricks can also help. Learning a new language, music lessons, or teaching yourself how to use the iPod can contribute to building new brain circuits.
(7) Never neglect your physical exercises, too. Cardiovascular and strength training boost brainpower by generating more blood flow to the brain which supplies oxygen and nutrients promoting the growth of new brain cells.
All in all, keep yourself well-informed on how to give your brains a good workout and what kind of physical exercise are the best for you. More good news on brain training had been turning up everywhere (TV, print, internet) lately. Stay tuned.