By Jane Sandwood
Dementia is a terrible affliction that affects more than around five million Americans, but fortunately, it does not act the way most diseases do. Whereas viruses, infections and other syndromes are contracted or come about genetically, dementia is associated with the breakdown of neurological function and the buildup of certain substances in the brain. Therefore, the brain is like a heart or muscles in that the more it is exercised and cared for, the stronger and more able to fight off dementia it will be. Several exercises and activities can keep the brain fit and healthy.
Exercising the brain involves engaging and challenging mental activity. Studies have linked lesser rates of dementia in those with more and better quality education, meaning that their brains were stimulated more and for longer periods. Daily mental activity like playing games or working through crossword puzzles can help, but more challenging tasks like learning a new language can significantly increase brain activity. Just as with the body, an active mind is a healthy one.
The brain does not exist apart from the body, so a healthy all-around self will keep the brain from degenerating. Exercise helps fight dementia by, among other things, increasing blood circulation and aiding in learning outcomes. Physical ailments such as heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes increase the risk of dementia and can be prevented with exercise. Regular, aerobic physical activity such as walking, biking, swimming or yoga can achieve these benefits.
There have been a few links between increased social stimulation and lesser rates of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Researchers posit that social activity requires more and varied brain activity, encouraging stimulus. Lack of social interaction also causes people to become withdrawn and lonely, which are both risk factors linked with the onset of dementia. A live-in caregiver offers companionship to those who are at risk, providing conversation and assistance with daily tasks. Joining new social groups or increasing activity in existing ones such as family, clubs, teams or societies can lead to a fuller life with a reduced risk of neural degeneration.
Dementia has many risk factors that can influence the chances of the disease appearing. Eliminating or reducing certain things in life such as alcohol, excessive sugar, smoking, head trauma and stress substantially decrease the risk of dementia. Conversely, increasing things such as fruit and fish in a diet, laughing and sleep can have the same effect.
Since dementia has so many risk factors and possible causes, many different activities are required to prevent it. Happily, however, steps that are taken to reduce the possibility of dementia also make for a more complete and all around healthy person.
Jane Sandwood is a professional freelance editor with over 10 years’ experience across many fields. Jane has a particular interest in issues relating to elderly care and health and improving the quality of life for older people. Photo by Cristian Newman.