Do brain fitness exercises prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia?
Since it was first named as a disease: Alzheimer’s Disease, people have been trying to find a way to prevent or cure it. We have tried, medicine and drugs, vitamins and supplements, herbs and tonics. We tried to invent new medicine, we tried to repurpose existing medicine, we looked at treatments from other cultures; Chinese herbs, acupuncture, and ayurvedic medicine. Most recently, western science has attempted to prevent or postpone Alzheimer’s with brain training. The simple idea being that if you can exercise the body and build it up to withstand changes from aging and age related illnesses, then perhaps you could do the same for the brain.
Surprisingly, this approach has consistently shown the most promise in the last 12 years.
- In 2002 a longitudinal study published the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded that participation in cognitively stimulating activities was associated with a 33% reduction in risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- In 2006 there was another JAMA article on the “long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults” and again cognitive training showed significant long-term improvement.
- The New England Journal of Medicine published a study on “Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly”, again the study showed reduced risk for dementia in 2003.
- More recently in 2009, the scientific journal Neurology found similar results, the more you ‘exercised’ your brain, the more resistant you will be to developing dementia.
- The British Journal of Psychiatry in 2006, did a cost-effective analysis of using cognitive stimulation therapy, and as expected found it to be much more affordable than any other treatment tested.
More on brain fitness exercises…
The research goes on and on. But the weak link in all this research is standardizing “cognitively stimulating activities”. So how can we be certain from study to study, which activities are most effective and which are not. Consequently, the biggest challenge I have as a Gerontologist is giving caregivers this information, and answering the inevitable next question: What activities should I be doing? When I was a speaker for the Alzheimer’s Association I would advise that people try learning a new language or try challenging brain games like Sudoku or Crossword Puzzles. The caveat is you can’t get much results from doing activities that you are already are good at. For example, if you have been doing crossword puzzles for years, then there is very little ‘growth’ in continuing to do them. Benefits come from doing new and challenging activities.
Now days, there are programs that you can do, like Wii games that call themselves “Brain Training”. Using the same research I mentioned above these games try to infer that what they are selling will produce the same results. But that is not necessarily true. Advertising is a very sneaky business. But as a professional, I would recommend any of these games or programs because doing something is better than doing nothing. But I would not endorse any of them, because there is no independent research that confirms their product will get the same results as the research, except one.
I first became aware of Dakim Brain Fitness Software in 2011 at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) and I met the owner Dan Michael who developed the idea when he was caring for his own father suffering from Alzheimer’s. But what set Dakim and Dan apart from everyone else was his discipline and faithfulness to the current research on Cognitively Stimulating Activities. He approached and recruited the finest minds in dementia treatment and research: Dr. Gary Small the director of the UCLA Center on Aging, Dr. Helena Chui chairman of the Dept. of Neurology at USC, and Jeffery Cummings the director of the UCLA Alzheimer’s center to name a few. The collaboration was so thorough that Dakim was used in a formal research study and presented in March 2010 at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. Again showing that brain training was quite effective!
For those are looking for a way to build some insurance against developing the disease themselves, or if they are looking for an effective tool that might help a family member in the early stages, while anything on the market will do, if you can afford to spend a little more money, your best bet is Dakim. In the end it may turn out to be the most effective use of your money and time…and brain.