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Brain Exercises and Dementia

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Can you help your brain stay healthy as you age by doing things that challenge your mind? Could that also help you avoid memory loss, or even prevent or delay dementia such as Alzheimer's?

Scientists need to do more research to find out for sure. But a number of studies show there are benefits to staying mentally active.

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Here’s what we know about the impact of exercising your brain.

Can brain exercises help delay memory loss or dementia?

When people keep their minds active, their thinking skills are less likely to decline, research shows. So games, puzzles, and other types of brain training may help slow memory loss and other mental problems.

One study involved more than 2,800 adults 65 and older. They went to up to 10 brain-training sessions for 5 to 6 weeks. The sessions focused on tactics for these skills:

  • Memory
  • Reasoning
  • Speed of processing information

People who took the training showed improvements in these skills that lasted for at least 5 years. Even better? They also improved at everyday tasks, such as the ability to manage money and do housework.

But what about prevention of Alzheimer's and other dementias? Does brain training help? 

One study found that exercising the mind delayed declines in thinking skills. After people started having Alzheimer's symptoms, though, mental decline sped up in those who kept their minds engaged. It's possible that being mentally active bolstered the brain at first, so symptoms didn't show up until later.

The silver lining here? People who regularly challenge their minds may spend a shorter part of their lives in a state of decline, even if they do get Alzheimer's.

What kinds of brain exercises should I do?

That may be vary from person to person. But the main idea seems to be keeping your brain active and challenged. You could start with something as simple as eating with the hand you usually don’t use from time to time.

You can also:

  • Learn something new, such as a second language or a musical instrument.
  • Play board games with your kids or grandkids. Or get your friends together for a weekly game of cards. Mix it up by trying new games. The extra bonus of activities like these? Social connections also help your brain.
  • Work on crossword, number, or other kinds of puzzles.
  • Play online memory games or video games.
  • Read, write, or sign up for local adult education classes.
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