One of the biggest health challenges of our time is dementia and associated cognitive decline with over 35 million people world wide suffering. Dementia is characterized by memory loss, problems with communication and troubles with reasoning or judgment. Dementia is a progressive disease that affects not only the patient but also their family and friends. Dementia is caused by damage to brain cells and while there is still much debate over the causes of that damage, a recent study points out how a lifetime of intellectual pursuit can help delay the damage and disease. The study, published in Journal American Medical Association Neurology, shows that people who had a longer lifetime of education (or intellectual accomplishment) were able to delay the onset of dementia and cognitive impairment. What does this mean? Well, first of all, using your brain on a daily basis is good for keeping your brain healthy. The study showed that although the highest level of education was associated with the largest delay in the onset of disease (about 9 years), even lower levels of lifetime intellectual achievement were able to delay disease by 3 ½ years. Second, training your brain like you would any muscle group in your body is good for your health.
It was interesting to note in the study that it was not too late to start taking part in intellectual activities to work your brain and prevent decline later in life. They found that people from low education backgrounds benefited from taking part in intellectual activities later in life. In other words, it is never too late to engage your brain. It was also shown that people with a certain genetic background had a greater protective effect then others primarily because they were more prone to cognitive decline to begin with. What this means is that in certain people with a higher risk of dementia (based on their genes), brain training could be more beneficial.
Applying this knowledge in your own life could be as simple as trying to learn something new every day. Easy daily activities such as reading, learning to speak a few words of a new language or playing an instrument should help prevent dementia. Reading this blog and other ones to educate yourself is also a good start. What about brain training games? While they can’t hurt, there are many other things you can do that don’t cost anything. There are other studies have shown that weight training and exercise can help delay or prevent dementia. Hopefully there will be more studies to lend support to these findings and help develop programs to keep people intellectually active throughout their life. More research should be done to determine how different types of brain training (i.e. academics, reading, social interactions) affect these beneficial effects.
So what is the moral of the story? Stay active, use your brain and you will help make sure you will keep your mind clear well into your golden years.