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Keeping Your Brain Healthy

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Can people do anything to prevent the mind from declining in old age? New studies suggest that's a possibility -- through activities such as reading, playing board games, and doing crossword puzzles. Keeping your brain healthy as you get older may be easier and more fun than you think! Engaging in mentally stimulating activities is one course to keeping dementia at bay and improving the health of your brain. More than five million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and another person develops it every minute. It's important to take steps early in life to prevent this common disease.

A new study may show us how. Researchers included 65 older people whose minds were still sharp, and compared them to a group of people with Alzheimer's and a group of young adults. The healthy older folks discussed how often they read, wrote letters, went to the library, and played games throughout their lives.

Everyone underwent special brain scans that looked for evidence of beta amyloid. This is a protein that forms clumps in the brain during Alzheimer's. People who kept their brains more active when they were young and middle-aged had less beta-amyloid in their brains. But those who didn't do many brain-stimulating activities had about as much of this buildup in their brains as people with Alzheimer's.

The brain is surprisingly adept at compensating for aging, and other types of memory can improve or remain intact over time. Even more encouraging is that a set of relatively simple and inexpensive lifestyle changes can go a long way toward maintaining a vigorous mind. As a result, keeping your brain challenged might slow down or postpone Alzheimer's disease. Inexpensive ways to start include: • Joining a book club, reading a newspaper, seeing a play, listening to presidential debates, attending lectures and playing board or card games — helps preserve acumen. Any engaging pastime counts, including needlepoint, gardening, playing the piano, studying a language, bird-watching or memorizing dance steps — and the more, the better • Visit the library often • Regular consumption of fish, fruit and vegetables might protect mental agility • Control blood pressure, reduce stress, limit alcohol, get some sleep, and stop smoking.

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