Many of us have experienced the sadness and frustration of an aging family member dealing with memory loss from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. But have you ever wondered why some people experience diminished memory capacity and others do not? Is there a way to stop or slow down the decline of mental sharpness?
Research funding on dementia, Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s related dementia combined exceeded 1.47 billion in 2015. Even though we’re making progress, there’s still no cure for these conditions. Researchers have discovered, however, that there are things we can do to improve our chances of staying mentally alert and retaining memory function.
One surprising finding? Exercise may help in retaining memory function and the brain’s ability to process information. A five year study lead by a University of Miami neurologist discovered that participants who were physically active maintained sharper cognitive ability than participants who were sedentary. “After five years, exercisers were the equivalent of 10 years younger than the light- and non-exercisers on measures of ‘episodic memory’ function — the ability to recall past experiences and autobiographical information.”
This research also supports a link between vascular health and memory function, and those who had risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure were also at risk for brain aging. Exercise helps control blood pressure and stroke risk by keeping the blood vessels in good condition.
Mental challenges. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin, older adults who play mentally challenging games such as cards, puzzles such as crossword or Sudoku, or chess, retain more mental acuity that older adults who don’t participate in such activities. A Harvard Health “Heartbeat” article states that “Challenging your brain with mental exercise is believed to activate processes that help maintain individual brain cells and stimulate communication among them.”
But if you’re a master at chess because you’ve played it for years – you may want to take up a new hobby. A study by the University of Texas at Dallas found that to reap the benefits to preserve an aging mind, a person must “do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially,” according to a lead researcher.
Overall health. Maintaining the best overall physical health you can is also key to staying mentally sharp, according to research. In addition keeping high blood pressure in check, maintaining a healthy diet, and stopping harmful habits such as smoking or tobacco products are all ways to contribute to good physical and mental health.
“We encourage overall heath as the key to preventing many conditions, including declining mental sharpness,” stated Natalie Twyman, Census Development Director for American Healthcare. “Keeping the brain challenged and stimulated is important as we age, and is why our Heritage Hall facilities place such emphasis on the mind, body and spirit of our residents.”