for your brain
Keeping the mind fit through mental and
By Jacqueline Stenson
Updated: 1:55 p.m. ET Nov. 30, 2004LOS ANGELES - Shirley
Robin has begun noticing some changes in her brain power
recently. "I'm forgetting things very easily,"
she says. "I'm repeating stories all the time. There's
no question that there's a loss of memory here."
But even at the age of 75, Robin isn't giving up without
|At the UCLA campus, some students
are learning memory-sharpening skills that they hope
will serve them well into old age.
During a recent afternoon at UCLA, she and
about a dozen other seniors took part in a class aimed
at enhancing their cognitive abilities. Through a series
of "mental aerobics" activities, the class participants
learned memory strategies and exercises to help keep their
minds in shape.
One exercise focused on remembering people’s
names. The instructors told the class to zero in on some
aspect of a person’s face and try to associate it
with something they’d remember. For instance, Freddie
Katz has large green eyes like a cat.
Other activities centered on figures. When
trying to remember a number such as 37, the instructors
advised, make a story out of it: The triplets drank 7
UP. For the address of 76 Willow Avenue, think of 76 trombones
in a willow tree.
In addition to such brain-training classes
that are now offered in some cities, various books, videos
and web sites are devoted to helping people boost their
memory. And early next year, chapters of the Alzheimer’s
Association are planning to offer “Maintain Your
Brain” workshops to educate people about lifestyle
measures -- including mental and physical activity --
to help preserve their cognition.
Experts say programs aimed at boosting brain
power are attractive to many aging baby boomers and older
people who are worried about developing Alzheimer’s
and other forms of dementia. There's reason for concern:
Alzheimer's cases are expected to soar in the coming decades
as the population ages. But there is some good news too:
Increasing evidence suggests there are steps we can take
to help keep our brains in shape.
'Use it or lose it'
Until about 25 years ago, most scientists believed that
senility was an inevitable part of aging, according to
Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Center on Aging who
launched the memory training classes on campus.
But they now know that’s not necessarily the case,
says Small, author of “The Memory Prescription.”
Research has demonstrated, for example,
that higher levels of education and plenty of mental stimulation
throughout life are associated with lower rates of Alzheimer’s,
A study published last year in The New England
Journal of Medicine found that people over 75 who often
read, danced and played board games or musical instruments
had lower rates of dementia, including Alzheimer's, than
those who didn't frequently engage in such stimulating
“It’s the use-it-or-lose-it
theory,” Small says. “If you keep your brain
cells active it improves their efficiency. You develop
what we believe is a cognitive reserve.”
How much is enough?
So how much do you need to do now to keep your brain functioning
well into old age? It’s not entirely clear but experts
say it all adds up -- and it’s never too late to
Even people who are at high risk of Alzheimer’s
because of a family history of the disease may see benefit.
They may not completely steer clear of the disease, but
they may reduce or delay its symptoms for months or even
years, according to Small and others.
That’s the message the Alzheimer’s
Association is hoping to get out with its new campaign,
says Dr. Bill Thies, the group's vice president for medical
and scientific affairs.
Kleinhenz for MSNBC.com
It's never too late to learn for Sandy Baron, 86,
left, and Shirley Robin, 75, who work on a memory
exercise during a class at UCLA.
Staying mentally active -- be it through
working crossword puzzles, reading, taking college courses,
learning a new language, playing games or going to the
theater -- is “the prudent thing to do” as
we age, says Thies. “But it doesn’t come with
a guarantee card, unfortunately.”
The same goes for physical activity, according
to Thies. Researchers know that people who exercise regularly
have healthier brains and less Alzheimer’s than
their couch-potato counterparts, though they don’t
know exactly how much or what specific kinds of exercise
offer the most protection.
Research published in September in the Journal
of the American Medical Association found that even walking
appears to have a significant benefit. A study of men
ages 71 to 93 showed that those who walked less than a
quarter of a mile a day were nearly twice as likely to
develop Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia
as those who walked more than two miles daily. And a second
study of women ages 70 to 81 found that women who walked
just one-and-a-half hours a week performed better on cognitive
tests than those who were more sedentary.
Until more definitive studies are done,
Thies recommends sticking with the current public-health
recommendation to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise,
such as walking or biking, most days of the week.
Such activity keeps arteries fit and can promote healthy
blood flow to the brain, he says, and there’s some
evidence it may even cause the release of nerve growth
factors that create new connections in the brain.
Exercise also appears to help by regulating
blood sugar, which seems to play a key role in brain health,
according to Dr. Antonio Convit, medical director of the
Center for Brain Health at New York University.
In a study published last year in the Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences, Convit and his colleagues
found that people with impaired glucose tolerance performed
worse on memory tests than people with normal blood-sugar
control. What’s more, those with impaired glucose
tolerance actually had brain shrinkage in an area involved
Glucose fuels the brain, Convit explains,
so when it’s in short supply there’s trouble.
How do you rate your memory?
Experts say people like Robin who are hoping to keep their
brains in shape as they age should follow the same advice
that goes for keeping the rest of their bodies fit: Find
exercises that you enjoy and are likely to stick with
over the long-term. When it comes to working out the brain,
though, activities should be both physical and mental.
Memory programs that give specific instructions
about exercises to follow are fine, Thies says, but you
don’t really have to over-think this one too much.
“The advice is fairly simple,”
he says. “Moving is better than sitting and staying
engaged is important.”
Original source: http://www.msn.com