Dementia is a syndrome (a group of related symptoms) associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning which is the result of damage caused by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia can cause a host of progressively serious cognitive problems, such as memory loss and impaired understanding, so it is important to recognise the warning signs to slow down the progression. There’s no certain way to prevent dementia but there is persuasive evidence that making lifestyle decisions to preserve and boost the brain’s functions can reduce the risk of developing the condition.
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Growing research suggests that engaging in activities that keep the mind stimulated and sharp may help to ward off the threat of developing dementia, and a new study adds further weight to this claim.
A new study conducted by the University of Edinburgh found that pensioners who played bridge, chess and Monopoly were more likely to stay mentally sharp.
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers analysed data on 1,091 people who sat tests on memory, problem solving and thinking speed.
The tests started when subjectswere 70 and then were repeated every three years until they were 79.
Those who played “non-digital” games, such as bingo, dominoes or crosswords suffered less decline in brain power.
This trend was particularly pronounced in memory and thinking speed, and the frequency of playing games also had a bearing on the results.
The average IQ score of pensioners who played games several times a week was one to three points higher.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Ian Deary said: “We are narrowing down the sorts of activities that might help to keep people sharp in older age.
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“It’d be good to find out if some of these games are more potent than others.”
Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams said: “Even though some people’s thinking skills can decline as they get older, this research is further evidence it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Other ways to reduce your risk
Eating a healthy, balanced diet has been associated with a lower risk of dementia, and certain health bodies have highlighted the link between following a Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of developing dementia.
There is some evidence that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce the risk of developing problems with memory and thinking, and getting some forms of dementia, according to the Alzheimers’s Society.
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Mediterranean diets are traditionally high in fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals, with moderate consumption of oily fish and dairy, and low in meat, sugar and saturated fat.
As the Alzheimers’s Society explains, research in the 1960s showed that men from Mediterranean regions who adhered to traditional diets had lower rates of heart attacks.
This prompted the continual investigation into the potential health benefits of the diet.
It is believed that high levels of antioxidants from the high intake of fruits and vegetables may help to protect against some of the damage to brain cells associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as increasing the levels of proteins in the brain that protect brain cells from this damage.
Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that the body produces.
Exercise may also reduce the risk of developing dementia and several studies have revealed an association between physical activity and reduced risk.
One particular study looked at health behaviours of over 2,000 men in Wales, and followed them for 35 years.
Of the five behaviours that were assessed (regular exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake, healthy body weight and healthy diet), exercise had the greatest effect in terms of reducing dementia risk.
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