“They play Scrabble together once a day, and I can tell it’s a real brain boost for them both. It’s helpful,” she explains. “The fact that they use the dictionary is a good exercise because they have to find words. The whole game becomes a process in searching and remembering.”
Since her parents moved in about six years ago, Vivian’s noticed the little changes and big changes that mark their path to aging. Building on her parents’ life-long interest in games, word puzzles and crosswords has been an easy way to keep them challenged and engaged—even as other activities become more difficult.
“My mom has always done crosswords in English and Italian. Now, she plays word games on her iPad, and does jigsaw puzzles,” she says. “Just anecdotally, I can see that it really keeps her sharp. It’s the same for their daily Scrabble match. It gets them using their brains in a different way,”
What she’s seeing in terms of benefits at a household level is real. The positive implications of fun-yet-challenging brainwork like this is applicable for seniors everywhere. How? Challenging our brains through lifelong learning, games or puzzles can support overall health in ways that dial down the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. That represents a clear upside for seniors, among whom the prevalence of dementia more than doubles every five years after age 65.
What else can help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s? Staying on top of continuous developments in research. Because recommendations are always changing, embracing opportunities to ask your doctor what’s new on the Alzheimer’s prevention front should be a regular part of routine check-ins. Using these four key questions as a guide can be a great place to start:
- What’s changing on the medication front? In June, U.S. government health officials approved the first new drug for Alzheimer’s disease in nearly 20 years. The same company has submitted an application for Health Canada to begin reviewing its medication, which is purported to treat the underlying disease, rather than only managing or slowing Alzheimer’s symptoms. While it’s early days yet, and studies are still ongoing for this particular drug, be sure to periodically ask your doctor what’s new on the prevention front in Canada to stay current on the latest guidance.
- Am I exercising enough? Studies show healthy lifestyles can go a long way toward managing factors known to put folks at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s (and dementia more broadly). Chronic illness like diabetes, high blood pressure and unchecked cholesterol can all play a part. There’s evidence that the right amount of exercise helps prevent Alzheimer’s, or slow down the progression in people who have symptoms. That typically involves about 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise, three to four days a week. Ask your doctor about the most recent guidelines, and which exercise activities make sense given your overall health profile.
- Does my diet put me at greater risk? Because eating well ties right into your health and wellbeing, improving your diet can be a good way to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Regularly incorporating foods known to support brain health can make a difference. The Mediterranean and MIND diets—rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and legumes—are both considered solid options. True, too, for bringing colour to your plate by choosing foods that span the full spectrum of the rainbow. Tell your doctor about the way you eat now, and ask for the latest suggestions on foods that could help you avoid Alzheimer’s down the road.
- Am I connected enough to the outside world? As we slowly emerge from pandemic lock-down measures, it’s fair to say many of us have experienced feelings of isolation over the last year. Poor mental health (loneliness, depression, etc.) can wreak havoc on overall mental health, driving up the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. On the flipside, observational studies have shown that greater social contact helps prevent it. Reaching out to your doctor for the latest advice to proactively manage your mental wellness, and seeking help as needed, is an effective way to tackle Alzheimer’s risk factors.
There’s no silver bullet prevention strategy for Alzheimer’s disease. Right now, your best defence is a strong offence that prioritizes overall health and wellbeing, and proactively mitigates risk factors. Keeping current on medications and other recommendations can empower you to live your best life by cutting out known risks along the way.