Stimulating brain activities done from childhood through old age may help in the prevention of the clinical signs of dementia. Such activities include reading books, writing letters, and solving everyday problems. Keeping the brain active appears to help certain brain circuits operate effectively, even when the gradual buildup of the disease has already started.
Research has shown that people who engage in frequent mental activity later in their lives had a mental decline that was 32 percent lower than people who engaged in average mental activity. However, people who engaged in infrequent mental activity had a decline in cognitive abilities 48 percent faster.
This research helps explain why a third of people who die in old age and had little or no signs of problems with their thinking, learning, or memory, but brain autopsies showed clear evidence of Alzheimer's disease. This means that they technically had the disease but it never expressed itself clinically.
The "cognitive reserve hypothesis" is the idea that the brain creates a "work around" so that the signs of Alzheimer's do not show. This suggests that people who have greater thinking, learning, and memory abilities can somehow delay the symptoms of Alzheimer's. However, it has been challenging for scientists to prove this hypothesis.
The question of how challenging activities help to support brain function is still asked. The brain is always trying to adapt to the challenges it's asked to undertake. The brain is dependent on experiences. Sustained activities impact its structure and how it functions. Elaborately structured and functioning cognitive circuits are better able to adapt when the inevitable impact of aging occurs.
When researchers began conducting this study back in 1997, they asked 294 participants (all over 55 years old) to report on their lifetime and recent thinking related activities (from childhood to the present). About 68 percent of the participants were women and had 14 years of education. Thirty-seven percent already had mild thinking impairment when they began in the study. The participants' memory and thinking ability were tested on a regular basis and annual neurological exams were conducted.
As each participant died, the researchers had examiners, who had no knowledge of the clinical evaluation data, independently inspect the brains to look for established signs of dementia. The researchers then compared the findings to the data they had collected and found that if the participant's had stimulating mental activity slowed the rate of mental decline years prior to death.
It is recommended that to protect your brain you should find real world activities that challenge you and encourage you to focus and concentrate. People should be encouraged to start to develop their thinking and memory skills while still children. Physical activity is also very important.
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