Slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s: Do mind exercises work?
By: St. Luke’s Health - The Woodlands Hospital | Published 06/21/2022
Did you know that the number of people with Alzheimer's disease doubles about every five years beyond age 65? When it comes to people who are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, researchers are discovering which activities can help slow the progression, like doing a crossword puzzle every day, reading, or journaling. Let’s dig a little deeper into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.
What causes Alzheimer’s disease?
Unlike age, family history, and genetics, there are risk factors that you may have some influence on. People with a greater risk of Alzheimer's are 65 years or older, have one or more family members with the disease, or have a genetic marker for Alzheimer's.
While we can't control any of the previous factors, research is beginning to reveal that there may be factors that you can influence through lifestyle and wellness changes. Alzheimer's disease is caused by damage to a neuron's synapse when trying to remove excess protein built up around the area. While you can't control the removal of these cells, you can control how many synapses form in your brain.
You can also get right to the heart of the matter. There is growing evidence of a link between heart health and the brain. Scientists have found that the risk of heart failure correlates to the degree of cognitive decline. You can make certain heart-healthy lifestyle changes, like eating a proper diet, getting enough exercise, and limiting stress to lower your heart failure risk. Speak with a primary care physician about specific ways to decrease your risk of heart disease.
Do Alzheimer’s brain exercises actually work?
Growing research shows how cognitive games—things you may do to pass time on your phone—can actually have an impact on your brain’s health. This research shows the connection between participating in cognitive games and more significant gray matter volumes in areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Another study provides evidence that mentally stimulating activity in seniors before the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease appears to compress the slow cognitive decline of the conditions.
What is gray matter in the brain? This is the brain's outermost layer and is pinkish gray in color. Gray matter is responsible for your movement control, memory, and emotions.
What are Alzheimer’s brain games I can play?
When you keep your brain active by learning anything new—an instrument, a language, a hobby—you’re helping create new synapses, make connections, and increase your cognitive ability. Take a look at this list of fun, mind-challenging activities.
- Puzzles. There are many different types of puzzles—crosswords, sudoku, jigsaw, scrabble, and more. Try out some different styles and figure out which type is your favorite.
- Card games. Along with giving your brain a challenge to focus on, card games offer an opportunity for socialization with other people. Grab a friend, or multiple, and a deck of cards and work your brains.
- Memory games. Put your memory to the test by playing a matching game online or with a set of cards.
- Reading and writing. These tasks flex the creative side of your brain. Writing in a journal is another way to work on your memory. You can even join a book club to stay social and connected with other people.
You can even get started right now by trying to figure out some of our “play on words” puzzles!
What symptoms of Alzheimer’s should I look out for?
Now you know how to help keep your brain healthy—but what changes should you look for if you or a loved one is at risk for Alzheimer’s? The difference between typical age-related changes and Alzheimer’s is the severity and rate of the decline in memory and reasoning skills. Here are the common symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Memory loss that disrupts daily life. One of the most common signs of Alzheimer’s disease is forgetting recently learned information like important dates or events.
- Confusion with time or place. People living with Alzheimer’s may have trouble understanding something if it isn’t happening immediately. They can lose track of dates, seasons, and the passage of time.
- New problems with speaking or writing words. Forgetting vocabulary is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. They may have trouble naming a familiar object, like calling a “watch” a “hand-clock.”
- Decreased or poor judgment. The onset of Alzheimer’s may look like using poor judgment when dealing with money or paying less attention to grooming.
- Withdrawal from work or social activities. A person with Alzheimer’s may experience changes in the ability to follow a conversation. Because of this, they may withdraw from hobbies or other social activities.
- Changes in mood or personality. It is common for people with Alzheimer’s to become confused, suspicious, depressed, or anxious.
Remember, while there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's, you can take steps to lower your risk of developing the disease. Schedule an appointment with a Baylor St. Luke's primary care physician for questions on healthy living and about getting in touch with a St. Luke's Health neurologist.