As we are all aging this is relevant for everyone. But as people grow older their two biggest fears are contracting cancer or dementia (including Alzheimer’s).
Now most of us understand that the causes of cancer are many. The same could be said for dementia. While cancer treatments often have very good outcomes if the disease is found early, it is unfortunate that dementia is often not diagnosed until it is at an advanced stage.
At present, there is no known cure for dementia. However, if addressed in the early stages there are drugs and other interventions that can delay the progression of the disease and make life more comfortable for both the patient and their carers.
Having recently attended two talks on the aging brain given by Dr. Belinda Brown and Emeritus Professor Alan Harvey,- I’m pleased to be able to report that two activities have been found to be very effective in preventing, delaying or alleviating dementia. And they are: (drum roll please) –
These two work in different ways. But research has shown that 150 minutes of moderate exercise is very beneficial for people with moderate cognitive decline. Belinda showed detailed graphs depicting the improvements enjoyed by those participating in different exercise programs. Unfortunately, despite this improvement, very few of the participants were still exercising 12 months later. So the take away from that is to find an exercise you enjoy or find ways to make the exercise you do enjoyable.
In regards to music, Alan believed people who learn a musical instrument (like bi-lingual folk) build up memory reserves which help to protect them against dementia. Also, music therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression in people with dementia.
Music is a form of communication that was once an integral part of the culture, and still is in many first nation peoples. He believes it is unfortunate that in our Western society we now regard it as an optional extra. While it is still used ceremonially, at weddings, funerals, official occasions, etc, it is no longer necessarily a part of everyday life.
His take away message (if you want to remain mentally alert and keep producing new and healthy brain cells) is to take up dancing. Combine music, exercise, and socialization for a healthy and enjoyable outcome.
These benefits weren’t the only points made during the talks. The point was also made that the belief that the human brain simply declined once it reached adulthood is incorrect. Brain cells (neurons) like other cells in the body are continually being renewed and replenished. But they need to be stimulated to remain active. Other ways of looking after your brain cells are:-
learning a language
The overall message is, if you want to do your best to prevent cognitive decline remain active and involved and keep nourishing that brain of yours with stimulating input.