“Use it or lose it” commonly refers to the importance of exercising your body and staying fit. Exercising your brain is just as important. Your brain needs a regular workout, especially as you age. After the age of 65, your risk of developing dementia doubles approximately every five years.
Dementia is not a disease. It’s a collection of symptoms resulting from damaged brain cells caused by other diseases. These cells affect your memory, personality, and decision-making abilities. Brain damage can occur from a head injury, stroke, or disease, such as Alzheimer’s dementia (the no. 1 form of dementia). Other diseases, such as uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, can cause another form of dementia known as vascular dementia (the 2nd most common form of the condition). Vascular dementia is caused by poor blood supply to the brain. It also affects memory, personality, and decision-making abilities.
While some forms of dementia cannot be cured and the brain damage cannot be reversed, research shows that keeping your brain active with activity, a healthy diet, and physical exercise may help delay the onset of dementia. It also may help prevent brain damage caused by injury or disease. The earlier you start brain-training activity, the better the benefits.
Path to improved health
If you are healthy and younger than 65, stimulating your brain with activities and games can keep your mind sharp later in life (unless you develop a dementia-related disease or have a stroke or a head injury). If you currently have some form of dementia, brain games and “active mind” activity can still help.
There are plenty of online games and apps available to play on the computer, your cell phone, or tablet. Some are free and some require a one-time or monthly fee. Don’t forget the benefits of playing simple board games, such as checkers, chess, matching games, or a jigsaw puzzle. Other puzzle games, such as Sudoku and crossword puzzles, are challenging, as well, and are often found in your local newspaper.
As you search for online games and apps, look for activities that stretch your short-term memory, listening, attention, language, logic, reaction time, hand-eye coordination, alphabetizing, and visual and special abilities. Consider adding brain-training activities that apply to your everyday life. For example:
- Write a to-do list and then memorize it.
- Listen to a new song and write down some of the lyrics.
- Draw a map from your home to the library.
- Research a new topic.
Other ways to challenge your brain include:
- Changing the way you do something. If you are right-handed and stir your coffee with that hand, trying to stir with your left hand.
- Read a how-to book.
- Learn a new language.
- Try a new craft or hobby.
- Learn to play a musical instrument.
- Take a class at your local college or community center.
It’s important to supplement your brain activity with a healthy lifestyle, too.
- Maintain a healthy weight and eat healthy.
- Get moving with physical exercise.
- Don’t smoke.
- Limit your alcohol.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Do your best to avoid injuries.
- Lower your stress.
- Follow your doctor’s orders for managing your diseases or conditions.
- Focus on activities that support your mental health.
- Maintain an active social life by regularly spending time with friends, volunteering, or joining a club.