U3A Lower North

University of the Third Age

Brainwork and dementia

by Cathy Johnson

(Published 23/10/2007 on the ABC Health and Wellbeing site)

Keeping your mind active can almost halve your risk of getting dementia.

Losing your marbles as you get older is something we all dread. It's called dementia and the most common form is Alzheimer's disease. But here's something you can do to help ward it off. It really is a case of use it or lose it. Seek out activities that stimulate your brain, and over your lifetime, you can almost halve your risk of developing dementia.

We all experience some decline in brainpower as we age. But people whose lives have involved lots of complex mental activity lose only about five per cent. In contrast, the loss in those who've virtually never exercised their brains, is 20 per cent – four times higher.

The effect even shows up in brain scans. The brain area that deals with memory, the hippocampus, appears shrunken in people who've had a mentally inactive life.

Even if you're already well past middle age, the good news is it's not too late to start giving your mind a work out. Research on people over 65 suggests just five weeks of memory training exercises is enough to start making a difference.

This kind of training seems to increase the brain's production of a chemical called creatine, known to heighten mental performance.

Stimulating life experiences are thought to have the same effect. Taking up a second language, pursuing a course of study, reading widely or learning a musical instrument all can increase creatine levels and help keep dementia at bay.

Activities that involve socialising seem particularly important too. And if you can get your heart pumping at the same time, so much the better.

In fact, it's clear from other research that a healthy ticker and a healthy brain go hand in hand. So swap that remote and the trashy TV shows for sudoku and salsa dancing. You'll not only live longer, you'll stay sharper too.

(This excellent article sounds like an advert for U3A membership but we assure you it is totally independent and it, and more like it, can be found on http://www.abc.net.au/health/. Why not subscribe to their free email newsletter which gives links to all sorts of interesting health-related reports and research. It never ceases to amaze me what can be found on "our ABC".)

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