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January 17, 2013

Friends can help stop brain drain

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that showed those people who spend the most time doing mentally stimulating activities have a much greater chance of avoiding dementia in old age.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation, dementia is defined as a decline in mental ability, such as memory loss, that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. (Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.) Needless to say, most of us are anxious to try to prevent it.

There are ways to improve our cognitive abilities, scientists believe, rather than simply assume that old age automatically leads to a decline in mental abilities. For example, in a recent article in Bottom Line Personal, Marie Pasinski, MD, was interviewed and spoke about ways in which we can help our brains function better with age. She is a neurologist and author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Boost Your Brain Power.”

Dr. Pasinski says that we should maintain close relationships with friends, and if your social circle is limited, find ways to broaden it by joining a community group or volunteering.

She also suggests not living “on autopilot” — meaning that routine is not healthy for growth of new brain cells. Learning something new, going to different places (not always to the same restaurant, for example), and even taking a different route to a familiar place might help. Exercise is known to help with cardiovascular health, depression, and diabetes, but it also improves brain function, so if you exercise in a new and different way, it could be like killing two birds with one stone (obviously, it’s best to clear any new exercise regimen with your medical provider first).

According to www.livefull.org, one study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that those who spent the most time in activities that were mentally stimulating, were 63 percent less likely to develop dementia and a University of Michigan study has also found that adults who play a mentally challenging game every day for several weeks could dramatically improve their memories.

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