Alzheimer’s disease – what middle aged man or woman doesn’t cringe when they hear these two words. Modern research about this devastating illness began in the 70s and public awareness increased in the 80s. But it was not until Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States and possibly the most famous persona with Alzheimer’s, admitted to having the disease in 1994 that people realized Alzheimer’s can strike anyone, including the man who once was the most powerful person in the world.
Among the several types of dementia (a collective name for illnesses that cause a wide array of mental dysfunctions), Alzheimer’s disease (AD) accounts for 60 to 80 percent, making it the most prevalent type in this category. A degenerative disorder that currently has no known cure, Alzheimer’s affects more than 5.2 million Americans over 65 years old, with women comprising approximately two-thirds of the population diagnosed with the disease.
While the two greatest risk factors for having Alzheimer’s – aging and genetics – are beyond human control, and a cure is not yet on the medical horizon, there are recommended strategies that may delay the onset of the disease. These strategies include brain games that work the mind, keeping it sharp and alert and in effect, keeping symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease at bay for a few more years. Currently, research conducted and/or funded by government agencies and private research institutes have found that constant learning endeavors even up to old age and engaging in activities that require intellectual stimulation greatly slowed down the beginning of AD.
Crossword Puzzles, Sudoku and Other Mind Games
In studies comparing older people who regularly involve themselves with mental pursuits with those who don’t, the first group had noticeably lowered risks (about 47 to 52 percent lower) of developing Alzheimer’s than the latter. The scientific basis for this phenomenon has not yet been fully established, but what’s more important are the findings of these studies. If doing simple brain exercises such as crosswords, Sudoku and board games like Monopoly, chess and Scrabble can prevent early Alzheimer’s, researchers hypothesize that there should be a gigantic reduction of the number of AD-stricken people in the future. There are some theories that researchers have come up with to explain the relationship between mind games and decreased AD risk. Among them are protecting the brain’s cognitive abilities and enhancing brain function so that it delays memory loss and the decline of mental alertness.
In the absence of scientific data to support the findings of these strategies, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to back up the theories. In light of such encouraging results, government and private organizations are willing to sponsor researches and studies to further look into non-pharmacologic interventions for Alzheimer’s disease.
Crossword puzzles top the list of these mind-stimulating exercises that promote brain performance. Done at least four times a week, they slow down possible development of AD, especially if doing crossword puzzles was a hobby started at a young age. Sudoku, a problem-solving mathematical brainteaser, is another recommended game that forces the brain to think and function. Trying to complete crossword puzzles and Sudoku requires persistent intellectual effort. These mental exercises mobilize the brain cells and keep them healthy, much like how physical exercise keeps the heart, lungs and muscles of the body healthy. And the more activities a person does in a day, the longer it took for the brain vitality to decline.
Board and card games have an added advantage. Not only do they stimulate the mind; they are also good avenues for social interactions, which have the same effect of delaying brain deterioration. While playing, the players chat and share their opinions of events or the daily happenings in their lives. Thus, Monopoly, chess, poker, Scrabble and other games that require more than one player are viewed as preventive techniques in studies on the management of Alzheimer’s.
For contemporary middle aged citizens who are into the digital lifestyle, there are video games played on consoles and computers. Like crossword puzzles and board games, they have been found to help in slowing down the onset of Alzheimer’s. There are so many of these word games, logic games and memory games, it seems there’s one invented every minute. These brainteasers that boggle the minds also force them to stay alert to keep up with the game’s momentum. In addition, playing them requires hand and finger dexterity, which helps maintain motor function in these particular body parts.
Researches and health practitioners are excited about the potential of video mind games in stalling Alzheimer’s disease. Initial studies have shown that playing these games improves speech and brain performance, and researchers are hopeful that memory and cognitive abilities will be retained for a few more years as well.
It won’t be long before doctors and health specialists will be advising parents to take over their kids’ game consoles and play those mind-twisting games they never understood before. And parents would do well to heed their doctor’s advice if they want to keep their mental faculties sharp.
At present, scientists have not found prevention measures that can completely eliminate the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, but the results mentioned above have shown positive results and promise to be the first step in future AD research. Avoiding alcohol intake and smoking are de rigueur for a healthy lifestyle. So are a balanced diet and regular physical exercise. Adding crossword puzzles, Sudoku, Monopoly and video games to them may soon be fundamental advice for the baby boomers and later, Gen X. And if they offer some hope for delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, then nobody’s complaining.