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Alzheimer’s shows up in mild to severe symptoms – from temporary forgetfulness and not being able to remember directions to familiar places – to complete memory loss. Clearly, this gradual loss of personality can dramatically reduce a patient’s quality of life, as well as dishearten concerned family and friends.
So how does it happen? Alzheimer’s disease results from the accumulation of protein tangles – inside and around brain cells. The deposition of these protein tangles is toxic to nerve cells, which begin to die off. As parts of the brain start losing cells, the patient begins to lose memory, cognitive ability and reasoning.
Can Alzheimer’s be cured? The short answer is, no. The medical community does not have a well-defined and tested cure or therapy that can reverse the formation of these tangles inside and around brain cells. There are, however, several dietary supplements that can help with the symptoms. So, the next best thing is to focus on preventing or delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Some recent discoveries have shown that during sleep, our brain cells have mechanisms to clear out small quantities of beta-amyloid peptides (1 of 2 types of proteins implicated in Alzheimer’s). This housekeeping mechanism helps clear out deposits of beta-amyloid peptides. Therefore, getting adequate sleep on a regular basis would be the first step towards prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
In addition to getting good sleep, there is some evidence in favor of engaging in stimulating intellectual activities. Research suggests that engagement in tasks that require the use of cognitive abilities can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in elderly people. In one study, elderly people in their 80s were assessed for participation in intellectual tasks as well as their propensity to develop Alzheimer’s disease in the follow-up period. Incidentally, this study was conducted with 107 pairs of twins. In each pair, 1 twin developed dementia (including Alzheimer’s), and the other did not. The study showed that there was a strong correlation between participating in 3–4 intellectual tasks and slowing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. These could be fun tasks as long as they challenged you to think as well. The activities that were reported in the study include:
Interestingly, the correlation between mental engagement and lower risk of Alzheimer’s was more prominent for women than for men. Similar results were obtained in another study of 387 people. Individuals with hobbies that required them to think were less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. An early interest in stimulating activities like reading, painting and drawing as also indulging in creative tasks like solving riddles, puzzles, and writing, all positively contribute to slowing down the degradation of brain cells.
A recent Chinese study showed similar results. People who engaged in leisure activities like playing music, reading, sewing or weaving, playing chess, card games, or mahjong or attending operatic performances were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
When it comes to brain health, remember the adage, use it or lose it! Engaging brain tasks can actually boost the metabolism of the brain. And when your mind is focused on an interesting activity, it can help you forget emotional stress. So if you are looking forward to enjoying your golden years, keep your brain stimulated.