Keeping the Mind Active: A Simple Guide for Treating and Preventing Dementia Progression

There are many useful resources at our disposal such as exercise, leisure activities, and cognitive tasks that therapeutically reduce the risk factors of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. In all of these conditions the neurons and tissues in the brain can deteriorate, which can impair our ability to use our mind to its fullest ability. The effects of neural impairment can affect our memory, our ability to perform basic motor functions, and our basic understanding of responsibilities and relationships. Having a loved one with dementia or a condition precipitating dementia-related symptoms such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, or Alzheimer’s can place profound accountability on ourselves, family members and caregivers. We should all take some time to acknowledge the tremendous potential of various strategies for preventing cognitive remissions and deterioration and make sure we are taking proactive steps to stay sharp as we age.

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playground
It is vital that we elderly, family members, and caregivers truly utilize our creative tool boxes and find regular activities that keeps the mind engaged to some capacity. Walking, dancing, exercising, and even housework can all profoundly replenish endorphins, hormones, and chemicals in the brain which serve to help prevent neural deterioration. However, if mobility is an issue of concern and you find that physical exertion is either risky or too difficult to accommodate, then there are other ways to attain the desired effects through mental exercise.

Studies have shown that much is to be gained from steady participation in simple activities such as these leisure activities which require less physical exertion:

  •   Reading
  •  Writing for Pleasure
  • Doing Crossword Puzzles
  • Playing Cards
  • Playing a Musical Instrument
  • Playing Board Games

Whichever strategy you find to be more comfortable—exercise-based, cognitive-focused tasks, or a combination of the two, remember to choose tasks that come natural to you. The type of activity performed is far less fundamental toward a healthy brain than the frequency and consistency of involvement, so make sure to choose a task you are confident you can incorporate in your daily routine with regularity.

Mild Cognitive Impairment
Many studies have been conducted over the last several decades with regards to the specific activities that can serve to keep the mind from deteriorating via physical exercise, mental activities, continued hobbies, and music therapy. All of the studies arrive at the same conclusion: than no single task has been identified as overwhelmingly more effective than the other activities, so rest assured there is likely a fun, meaningful activity that is suited for everyone. It is important, however, that we determine that task organically and make sure to incorporate it in our daily lives with vigilance.

These studies sought to establish whether or not, for example, playing chess three times per week would prove more effective than 15 minute walks three times per week. Although most studies did seem to indicate a very slight favoritism toward exercise as a task that mitigates mental deterioration more effectively, the improvements were very minimal. Concurrently, studies such as The Bronx Aging Study which followed the activities and health of individuals from 75-85 years of age for 20 years found that individuals who strayed from their routines suffered the greatest risk for developing dementia. In addition, several of these studies seemed to find that many individuals who developed dementia-related characteristics in later years were less involved in leisure activities and exercise, but that this may have very well been as a result of having Mild Cognitive Impairment to begin with.

What we can take away from these claims is that it is never too early to build a strong routine to defend against neural deterioration. Once our mind becomes less engaged with our relationships and daily activities, we begin to lose the motivation to follow the instructions of our caregivers, doctors, and even family members. We must then develop regular routines that we don’t view as burdens, so that we can more willingly adhere to these vital proponents of our continued health and prosperity.
Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment are generally able to live their lives without the assistance of others, but they will experience issues with memory, language, and some basic cognition problems. It is possible for MCI to remain unchanged throughout the years, to progress into Alzheimer’s, or to fade and allow an individual to regain full cognitive ability. Again, proper involvement in exercise and/or leisure activities along with a proper brain-healthy diet are the best tools to mitigate the progression of cognitive loss. So, detecting MCI early becomes equally fundamental toward reducing risk as we age further.

These early warning signs will help identify the onset of Mild Cognitive Impairment:

  • Frequently Misplacing or Losing Things
  • Frequently Forgetting Conversations, Appointments, or Events
  • Difficulty Remembering the Names of New Acquaintances
  • Difficulty Following the Flow of a Conversation

Final Thoughts
Developing any form of cognitive deficiency, dementia, or otherwise neural incapacity is both a struggle for the individual and the family members and caregivers supporting that individual. Depression is a likely side-effect of dementia once it has set in, and it then becomes increasingly difficult to perform these exercises and leisure activities that serve to sharpen or mental acuity. No small task is too insignificant to aid in the process of exercising the mind, and we as caregivers, family members, and potential dementia sufferers should make an earnest effort toward incorporating a lifestyle rich with steady activity. Whether we choose to walk around the yard, take up knitting, playing chess, stroking the piano, doing dishes, or reading the paper, stick to a routine that you find fun and meaningful to ensure that you maintain those habits and promote a healthy mind for as long as possible.

Educating yourself is a pivotal part of developing a strategy that combats worsening symptoms. The Understanding Dementia article linked below provides a great reference for the various kinds of symptoms and types of dementia that can afflict our beloved elders, along with steps you should be taking with your caregivers and physicians.

-The New England Journal of Medicine; Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly;
-The Nurse Practitioner; Exercise Alleviates Dementia in Elderly
-Understanding Dementia;

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