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In Home Care: Brain Games to Reduce Dementia Risk

Feb 14, 2017 by Toni Reinhart

I’ve been blogging quite a bit about how dancing, especially lead-follow dancing like swing dancing, can reduce your risk of getting dementia by as much as 76 percent. I’m a huge proponent of dancing. 

I think we can all agree that not everyone will take up dancing. And, maybe dancing isn’t the whole answer (I know you are shocked). What about the brain games we hear about? Most of us have seen and heard the commercials for computerized brain training games as a “surefire” way of reducing your risk of getting Alzheimer’s.

Is it a “surefire” method? Short answer: no. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that you won’t get Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. What we are talking about in my blogs are ways to reduce the risk of dementia. Use as many ways as you can – diet, exercise, dance, and brain games.

Studies linking brain training to a reduction in the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s have been inconclusive. In fact, in January the Federal Trade Commission penalized Lumos Labs, the company that created and marketed Lumosity, for making unsupported claims about the benefits of its program.

Even though the jury is still out on whether brain games can reduce the risk of dementia, and by how much, most studies are still finding brain games to be beneficial.

Yesterday, I met Dr. Ellen Clarke from Brain Evolved. She told me:"Brain games have shown a lot of promise for older adults looking to stave off a decline in brain fitness - not only do some show potential to improve brain fitness, but they can also be stress relieving. However, it can be very difficult to identify a game that will actually benefit every day life. The current research indicates that, in general, one of the major keys is to find a game that has a strong strategy component, such as the real-time strategy computer game Rise of Nations1."

  • Basak, C., Boot, W. R., Voss, M. W., & Kramer, A. F. (2008). Can training in a real-time strategy video game attenuate cognitive decline in older adults?. Psychology and aging, 23(4), 765.

One study I read about on WebMD, studied 2,800 adults 65 and older and focused on:

  • Memory
  • Reasoning
  • Speed of processing information

The subjects in this study showed improvement in these skills that lasted for at least 5 years. They also showed improvement in everyday tasks, such as managing money.

As more studies are being conducted, we are seeing more and more evidence that keeping your brain active will help keep you active and shorten the time you might spend in a state of decline.

Keeping your brain active might:

  • Reduce the amount of cell damage that happens with Alzheimer’s
  • Help you grow new nerve cells
  • Help keep the nerve cells that send messages to each other healthy
  • Build up a reserve supply of brain cells and the links between them.

What kinds of brain games should you be playing?

  • Strategy games. As Dr. Clarke told me, games with a strong strategy component can not only be beneficial for your brain health, but stress-relieving, also. Check out her website:
  • Puzzles and riddles. Brain teasers provide a great mental workout and build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku are great to play alone, if you play Scrabble you can keep you brain sharp by adding a social component, also.
  • Memory games. Although the FTC did penalize Lumos Labs for overstating the benefits of memory games, they are still a useful tool in keeping your brain cells sharp. If you enjoy memory games, there are hundreds to choose from.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • People who continue learning new things throughout their life are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Your brain is a “use it or lose it” organ – keep it busy.
  • The greater the challenge – the greater the benefit, don’t just sit and play “brain games” that are too easy for you.
  • Keep doing it! Studies show the benefits fade when people stop brain training.
  • Have fun. An interesting study showed that participants who enjoyed playing chess got a greater benefit than those who played to “keep their brains sharp” and didn’t enjoy it.

Are you motivated yet? Go out there and keep that gray matter happy!

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