With effort, effects of Alzheimer's can be slowed

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2005

By By Carolyn Bivins – Cooperative Extension Service
You can't stop Alzheimer's disease, but you may be able to delay its devastating effects. New research suggests that there are things you can do to add to your neural reserve according to the September and October (2005) issue of AARP Magazine.
Regular exercise, social interaction, and a healthy diet are crucial. But so is doing familiar things in unfamiliar ways. Disrupting routines can stimulate nerve cells, enhance blood flow, and increase the production of chemicals called neurotrophins that protect those precious brain cells. Try some or all of these simple steps to boost your brainpower:
Switch Sides. Use your non-dominant hand for routine activities such as brushing your teeth. Put the mouse on the other side of your computer. For an extra challenge, try buttoning your shirt one-handed. These changes recruit little-used connections in your brain.
Change the Scenery. Rearranging a room is a good way to remap the visual and spatial networks in your brain. Or try rearranging the items in your kitchen cabinets or dresser drawers, or taking a new route to work. Even a simple change, like moving the wastepaper basket to a new spot, alters motor pathways in your brain.
Make Hand Signals. Learning to spell using the manual alphabet will work on your motor and visual cortex at the same time. You can find illustrations of the 26 hand positions along side the definition of "Manual alphabet" in some dictionaries or online at www.iidc.indiana.edu/cedir/kidsweb/amachart.html.
Do It Blindfolded. Try familiar activities with your eyes closed. Sort coins using only your sense of touch. Savor a bowl of blueberries, focusing on your senses of small and taste. Why blueberries? Because they contain compounds that bridge the communication gap between aging nerve cells. "Blueberries are the Dr. Phil for old neurons," says Tufs University neuroscientist James Joseph, Ph.D. "They get them talking to one another."
Puzzle It Out. Crosswords are great for sharpening language skills, but working on your spatial intelligence with a jigsaw puzzle is more likely to activate new pathways in your brain. You don't have to do it all at once; try putting a few pieces in place a day.
Share Story Time. Take turns reading aloud with a friend or loved one. Both reading out loud and listening promote the interaction of your brain's left and right hemispheres and activate little-used pathways. Reading silently activates a much smaller part of your mental real estate, as does watching TV together.
Catch a Whiff. Smell is the only sense that connects directly to a part of the brain called the limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and storing memories. That's why certain odors can make you feel nostalgic. Listening to music while burning a scented candle will build brain connections by combining two senses-hearing and smell-that don't ordinarily collaborate.
Report the News. Describing things to others is an excellent way to improve your visual memory. Make it a goal to notice one new things every day and then tell someone about it later. This will help you improve both attention and memory skills. It will also open your eyes to things you've never noticed before and give you the opportunity to share your discovery with another person.
Take a Walk. Older adults who start a regular walking program improve significantly on tests of high-level "executive" functions such as planning, scheduling, and task coordination. Aerobic exercise raises levels of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which protects nerve cells from the damage caused by free radicals, boosts the number of connections between neurons, promotes the formation of new capillaries in the brain, and may even be involved in the construction of new neurons from adult stem cells. Studies that have combined strength training, such as lifting weights, with aerobic activity have yielded even greater improvement in cognitive function. These few steps, if practiced long enough, will become habits that may be able to delay Alzheimer's devastating effects.
Source: AARP Magazine Sept. &Oct. 2005

Email newsletter signup