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Preventing Dementia in Seniors: Adult Learning and Cognitive Games



“Prevention is better than cure” 

—Desiderius Erasmus



Dementia encompasses a wide variety of diseases that result in the abnormal impairment of memory, thinking, and decision-making. In Canada, more than 600,000 individuals suffer from dementia, impacting their daily activity, mental/physical function, and relationships [1].  

 

The Alzheimer Society of Canada predicts that between the years 2020-2050, 6.3 million individuals will live with and/or conclusively die from dementia [1]. As numerous trends show, the number of dementia patients continues to rise, having doubled since 1990 [2].  

 

Many factors such as poor eating, lack of physical activity, and smoking can increase one’s chance of developing dementia [3]. While it is essential one adjusts their lifestyle to exclude habits as mentioned, there are also other less common ways to help prevent its development. In fact, actively practicing, maintaining, and improving the very skills that dementia diminishes is both important and necessary.  

 

Cognitive function refers to the brain's ability to think, reason, learn, remember, and problem-solve [4]. When specifically looking at individuals between the ages of 50-80, maintaining and continuously developing one's cognitive function is a fundamental prevention method for neurological disorders [2].  

 

Improving cognitive function seems like an easy task, especially if you are constantly learning new subjects at school or are frequently challenged with new stimuli in your working environment. However, what about individuals who are retired, or who don’t easily have access to these opportunities? The answer is simpler than you think: there are many activities one can practice daily that encourage brain functionality. Two areas to focus on are adult literacy and cognitive games.  

 

There is a wide array of adult literacy activities and cognitive games that can help decrease one's risk of dementia. In 2023, Z. Wu et al. conducted a longitudinal study on Australian seniors by incorporating various cognitively activating exercises into their daily lives [5]. Scientists wanted to research and analyze the effects of “Lifestyle Enrichment in Later Life and Its Associations with Dementia Risk” [5]. After incorporating different lifestyle enrichment practices, the results concluded that increased engagement in adult literacy activities (ie. writing/journaling, computer usage, continuing education classes, learning new languages) and cognitive activities (ie. crosswords, chess, playing board/card games) decreased the risk of dementia by 11.0% [5].  

 

The study discusses the positive effects of senior cognitive stimulation on long-term brain functionality. When engaging in education and activities, the mind is forced to think critically, undergo logical reasoning, and socially engage and converse with peers [5]. Researchers conclude that “cognitive stimulation from such activities can increase resilience against brain pathologies by increasing the number of neurons, enhancing synaptic activity, and permitting higher efficiency in using brain networks” [5]. In simpler terms, engaging in adult learning and puzzling activities allows the brain to process and store new information, slowing neurobiological aging, and therefore decreasing the risk of dementia [5].  

 

There are many studies like this that test cognitive activity and its connection to dementia. Research dates back to earlier than the 2000s, and as observed, results are fairly similar across the board—higher cognitive activity levels and brain stimulation decrease your chances of impairment [5,6].  

 

There is currently no direct or single cure for dementia. This being said, the best way to avoid the development of impairment is to prevent it. Incorporating literature, writing, and thinking-games with numbers and/or letters into your daily routine is both a fun and effective way to help do this. So, grab a crossword or deck of cards and play games with your peers and elders. Or, if you’re like me, challenge yourself to the daily Wordle on the New York Times website! 


 


References

  1. Dementia Numbers in Canada [Internet]. Alzeimer’s Society of Canada [cited 2024 Feb 2]. Available from: https://alzheimer.ca/en/about-dementia/what-dementia/dementia-numbers-canada#:~:text=More%20than%20600%2C000%20people%20in,more%20than%2015%20every%20hour.  

  2. Livingston G, Huntley J, Sommerlad A, Ames D, Ballard C, Banerjee S et al. Dementia prevention, intervention, and care: 2020 report of the Lancet commission. The Lancet; 2020;396(10248):413-446 [cited 2024 Feb 2]. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30367-6.  

  3. Dementia [Internet]. World Health Organization [cited 2024 Feb 2]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia#:~:text=Dementia%20results%20from%20a%20variety,dependency%20among%20older%20people%20globally. 

  4. Fisher GG, Chacon M, Chaffee D.Theories of Cognitive Aging and Worl. In: ScienceDirect. Work Across the Lifespan [e-book]. Academic Press; 2019 [cited 2024 Feb 2]: 17-45. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-812756-8.00002-5

  5. Wu Z, Pandigama DH, Wrigglesworth J et al. Lifestyle Enrichment in Later Life and Its Association with Dementia Risk. JAMA Network; 2023;6(7) [cited 2024 Feb 2]. doi: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.23690

  6. Wilson RS, Scherr PA, Schneider JA, Tang Y, Bennett DA. Relation of cognitive activity to risk of developing Alzheimer Disease. Neurology; 2007;13;69(20):1911-20 [cited 2024 Feb 2]. doi:10.1212/01.wnl.0000271087.67782.cb.  

 

 

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