Animals were the first to show researchers that a stimulating environment protects the brain as it ages. Rodents that lived in enriched environments with lots of toys and plenty of friends in the same cage were less likely to get Alzheimer’s than rodents living a more sedate and boring lifestyle with neither social activity nor friends. It was also learned that the more active animals had more neural connections and growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor; at the same time they had less amyloid in their brains compared to the mice in the boring cages.
Extra neural connections are a plus because if one memory connection fails, the brain can try another connection (neural connections) to recall the same information. The more neural connections, the better. While lots of neural connections are a good thing, the reduction of amyloid is also a plus for our brains. The plaques and tangles that are eventually seen in the brain of a failing memory consist of this sticky amyloid.
In other words, from these little mice we learn that an abundance of mental activity protects the brain from Alzheimer’s. The most significant Activities to protect against Alzheimer’s are–reading, board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing.
Not all memory is the same, though, and each form of memory is strengthened in a different way.
- Procedural Memory–This memory reflects sequence of tasks, such as dance steps. To improve it, learn a new dance, a new software package, or how to program your new cell phone.
- Visual Memory–This memory reflects your ability to recognize what you see. Try one of the memory games where you have to match names with faces. Or, challenge yourself by trying to match the pictures and names of rare animals or plants, something challenging.
- Verbal Memory–This memory reflects your ability to remember what words mean and the names of things. To improve verbal memory try to memorize something you have to say out loud, such as a speech, poetry, or song lyrics.
Below are more suggestions from: “The Alzheimer’s Action Plan ”
- Play sports or cycle or walk on new trails
- Learn a strategy game like boccie, board games, chess or a challenging new computer game
- Learn a second language or get better at one you already know. Learn sign language, it’s particularly good for your brain as it uses both procedural and verbal skills
- Read books that challenge you
- Learn how to use an iPod or program your TiVo
- Write letters, short stories, a blog, a graphic novel
- Volunteer at a literacy program
- Do crossword puzzles
- Host a salon to discuss current events at your home or meet at a coffee shop
- Go to a museum or sit in on an art history lecture
- Get your art, crafts, or prized pet in shape to show in a competition
- Take a class or teach a class
- Ask your neighbor how to cook one of the meals you smell wafting from his or her kitchen
- Use a computer to stay in touch with friends and family, plan outings, do mental exercise games, read the news and much more–
- The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Life, 4th Edition
- Keeping Busy: A Handbook of Activities for Persons with Dementia
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