Published on: July 24, 2012
by Vanessa Fowler for Nine to Five:
Thinking of signing up for an adult education class or taking up mahjong?
The good news is, not only will you be learning something new and having fun, but research suggests that undertaking these kinds of brain-teasers can lower your risk of developing dementia.
According to Alzheimer’s Australia, studies show it may be possible to reduce your risk of developing dementia, or delay the onset, by taking action in your 30s, 40s and 50s.
“Research shows that people who regularly stimulate their brain with complex mental activities have better cognitive function and are less likely to develop dementia,” says Danielle White, manager of education and sector development at Alzheimer’s Australia.
But complex brain activity doesn’t have to mean maths problems or physics, unless you like that kind of thing. “When we say complex mental activity, what we mean is simply leaning something new. So adult education is perfect for this, and if you take up something you enjoy, you are far more likely to stick with it,” Danielle says.
“The fact is, people who combine a good social life, good mental activity and good physical activity have a lesser risk of developing dementia later in life.”
But Danielle adds we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that exercising our brains is something we should do when we get older.
“Changes in our brain happen from our mid 20s, so people should be exercising their brain from middle age. If we do this we are building a reserve of brain power, so when you get to your 80s, you can fall back on this reserve,” Danielle says.
Kylie Davies, program development coordinator for the North Sydney Community Centre says the centre offers adult education courses specifically designed to improve cognitive function.
“Our mahjong class has been designed for improved concentration, cognitive function and memory,” Kylie says. “And we’ve found our participants do get those benefits.”
Christine Feher, secretary of The Royal Art Society of NSW Art School, says the society’s day, evening and weekend classes are very popular with all ages, particularly retirees looking to stimulate their minds.
“Artists just have that inner glow that keeps them going,” Christine says.
“We have an artist here who’s well into her 80s who does contemporary work; she has an iPad and is very busy.”
“I think that if you do something creative, you just look at things differently and don’t worry about your age.”
Tips to reduce your risk of developing dementia:
Alzheimer’s Australia’s Mind your Mind program suggests seven ways of reducing your risk of dementia:
Mind your brain: Regularly challenging your brain with mentally stimulating activities is associated with better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Mind your diet: Antioxidants, certain vitamins and unsaturated fats are thought to be important for maintaining healthy brain cells.
Mind your body: Regular physical exercise is associated with better brain function and reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
Mind your social life: Participating in social activities and being connected with your community, family and friends seem to be good for both your heart and your brain.
Mind your health checks: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity all increase the risk of dementia, so get regular check-ups.
Mind your habits: Smoking and excess alcohol can increase dementia risk.
Mind your head: A history of serious head injury, especially with loss of consciousness, is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, so take care.
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