Some health experts suggest playing brain games and doing mental exercises to help ward off dementia and boost brain function – and for good reason. Some studies show that people who keep their minds active have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. One recent study revealed that people who do crossword puzzles four days a week lower their risk of dementia by a whopping 47%. But what if you already have dementia? Will playing brain games and mind exercises slow the progression of established Alzheimer’s disease?
Brain Exercises and Games: Do They Slow Progression of Dementia?
A recent study looked at the issue of how stimulating mental activities affect the risk of dementia. They came to some surprising conclusions. Challenging mental activities that stimulate brain activity slows down the rate of mental decline, at least at first, but accelerates it as Alzheimer’s disease advances.
When they looked at the effect playing brain games and engaging in mentally stimulating activities had on 1,200 people age 65 or over, they found those who didn’t have established dementia benefited from such activities as reading, playing musical instruments, solving puzzles, and tackling challenging brain games. In fact, their risk of cognitive decline was reduced by 52 % when they stimulated their mind regularly.
The story was completely different for older people who already had Alzheimer’s disease. When they took part in pastimes that involved challenging mental activity, it actually increased their rate of cognitive decline by 42%.
Does Playing Brain Games Increase the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease?
Scientists admit they don’t know why brain exercises and mental challenges slow down the progression of dementia at first and then increase it. This will likely be the focus of future studies – since it could provide additional insights into the progression of this perplexing brain disease.
Brain Exercises and the Progression of Dementia
This study shouldn’t deter older people from taking part in pastimes that stimulate brain activity such as working puzzles, playing board games, reading, and playing trivia games. These activities seem to offer some protection against the cognitive decline that comes with aging – and may help by creating new nerve pathways that bypass older, damaged areas of the brain. This is a good thing for the aging brain – and for people in the early stages of dementia. Such activities could conceivably keep a person with early Alzheimer’s disease functional for a longer period of time.
The bottom line? Taking part in activities that stimulate brain activity is helpful for preserving brain health in older people who don’t have advanced Alzheimer’s disease. It’s still unclear why people with established dementia progress faster when they stimulate their brain with more challenging mental activities. Hopefully, future studies will shed light on this issue.
Eurekalert website. “Brain exercises may slow cognitive decline initially, but speed up dementia later”
Time Magazine website. “Staying Sharp: Can You Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?