Research has proven that brain-stimulating activities and habits can help stave off Alzheimer’s. Not surprisingly, the brain can benefit from a good workout just as the body does.
Engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, writing and playing games can improve brain health. Exercising your brain can help prevent beta-amyloid deposits from developing. These are the destructive proteins that have become the hallmark of those who develop Alzheimer’s disease.
Experts say that stimulating the brain can also stimulate the senses. Triggering sensory responses helps us stay engaged and pay attention as well. This is yet another way that activating the brain can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The following are brain-stimulating activities you can incorporate into daily life to help ensure long-term brain health. These can make a difference in Alzheimer’s care and prevention.
Brain Games to Prevent Alzheimer’s
Mental exercises can be fun! Brain games improve cognitive ability and can also help prevent Alzheimer's and dementia. Following, are some ideas for Alzheimer’s prevention games:
- Crossword puzzles. Pick a book on a topic that interests you or grab the newspaper and try your hand at this classic game!
- Sudoku. For a lover of numbers, this game requires high levels of thinking.
- Scrabble. This board game involving words is a great problem-solving workout.
- Cards games. Whether it’s Bridge, a game of poker with the guys, or a cut-throat game of Hearts with the grandchildren, card games challenge your brain. They also involve social interaction which can help mitigate the onset and severity of Alzheimer’s.
- Online video games and other digital games. These engage the brain and couldn’t be more convenient. They can easily be played from the comfort of a chair in your own home (or anywhere!) on a cell phone or other mobile device.
Reading and Writing for Cognitive Function
According to researchers, reading is more neurologically demanding than processing images. Reading involves many brain functions: vision, language, and associative learning. Putting pen to paper requires eye and cognitive coordination, as does composing on a computer. Here are some ideas to encourage more reading and writing:
- Make reading a daily activity. Whether it’s the newspaper in the morning or a book every afternoon, read every day.
- Join a book club. This not only encourages reading, but dialogue and social interaction with others as well – two activities that enhance brain health.
- Keep a journal. This doesn’t have to be a complex masterpiece. Many journals are simply a recap of the day. What happened, what did you do? Any special accomplishments? What surprised you? What did you observe or learn?
- Write a memoir. What a great way to share your life story with younger family members.
- Hand-write cards and letters. It is a dying art, but one that can help keep your brain alive and well. (And who doesn’t appreciate a handwritten note?)
Get Creative with Your Prevention Methods
You don’t need to be Martha Stewart to make a decorative wreath or put together a scrapbook. Working with your hands and crafting something new will help keep the mind and senses finely tuned. Increase your brain health with these ideas:
- Painting and drawing. Put paint on a canvas, sketch the birds in your garden, draw pictures.
- Knitting and needlepoint. Knit the grandkids a sweater or needlepoint Christmas stockings for them.
- Woodworking projects. Consider a simple woodworking project like making a feeder for those birds in the garden!
- Create scrapbooks and photo albums. This can be great fun and remind us of good times. Then you can go through them with those who are featured.
- Seasonal holiday craft projects. Decorate Christmas ornaments, create Easter baskets or carve Halloween pumpkins.
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Give Your Brain a Workout by Learning a New Skill
If your mind is challenged to learn, it stays active and healthy. Force your brain out of its comfort zone sby trying the following:
- Take a class. Most local communities offer affordable classes through their Park & Recreation programs. Sign up for a cooking school class or a lecture series. Maybe you’ve always wanted to play guitar? Take lessons.
- Learn a new language. You can do tutorials online, buy language tapes, flash cards or books and teach yourself a new language in the comfort of your own home.
- Tackle new technologies. At the rate computer software and hardware are changing, there is always something new to learn. This doesn’t have to be daunting. It can be as simple as checking email daily or texting from a cell phone. Laptops, IPADS, and other mobile devices can go anywhere with you. Favorite sites can be bookmarked for easy access. There is a vast selection of applications to choose from – whether you want to read the news or track the weather online.
Music and Dancing for Brain Health
Alzheimer’s research has shown that these pastimes have been clinically proven to help activate parts of the brain and prevent cognitive decline. Get your groove on by:
- Listening to music or singing along with it. Music engages the mind and the senses; it can be soothing as well as stimulating.
- Playing your favorite musical instrument. Practice the piano or strum that guitar. Musicians keep their hand-eye coordination finely honed and their brains active.
- Dancing a little. Or a lot. Dance in place at home or go to dance hall. Lots of dance venues offer free salsa or ballroom dance lessons. Dancing is a terrific activity for hand, eye, brain coordination. It’s also fun and makes for social interaction.
Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Healthy body, healthy mind. We’ve heard that mantra for years. Researchers have learned that physical activity can help reduce Alzheimer’s risk by up to 65 percent. Exercise reduces the risk of blood vessel disease, improves breathing, and supports the survival of cells that make up the body and brain. Exercise also reduces chronic inflammation and improves cardiovascular health, which are both risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. Here are some easy exercise ideas:
- Stretching. Make simple stretching a part of your daily morning routine.
- Walking. Walking daily – even for 15 minutes – can be very beneficial.
- Yoga or tai chi. These low-impact practices are also excellent for the mind, body and spirit.
Get Out and About
Remain interested, active and engaged in life and your brain will remain active as well. Here are some places to go and things to do that will help keep the mind stimulated:
- Museums. Museums, art galleries and special exhibits provide thought-provoking contexts to get those neural pathways going.
- Movies and/or theaters. Not only are these entertaining diversions, but they can stimulate the mind and all the senses.
- The library. Make regular trips to the library. Browsing the shelves can be an adventure that keeps your brain sharp.
- Talk to neighbors and friends. Whether it’s over the garden fence or over a cup of tea, engage with others.
- Volunteer! Get involved in a local community organization or at your library. Mentor young students, read to children, or do whatever you’re passionate about.
Get out of your regular routine and try something new. It can challenge your mind and stimulate brain stem growth. Try something simple like:
- Taking a new route on your daily walk. Walk in a new place, with different scenery, different sights to see.
- Trying a new recipe. Experiment with something exotic or foreign like vegetarian Indian food or a Moroccan tagine. Or just cook something you don’t usually make, like a cheese soufflé.
- Learning a new word every day. Read the dictionary! And share the new word with someone. It will help you remember it.
It’s never too soon to start. Researchers note that a lifetime of engaging in these cognitively stimulating activities can enhance brain health and help defer the risk of Alzheimer’s. If you remain curious about life and continue to learn new things, your brain will remain active and challenged. As the old adage goes: if you don’t use it, you lose it.