With around 500,000 Brits currently living with Alzheimer’s, here are some fun ways to keep your brain sharp right into old age.
Forgetting someone's name, misplacing the house key, struggling to remember PINs and passwords – such things are just a part of everyday life for most of us.
But as we age, memory loss becomes more and more common, caused by the shrinking of our brain cells, or neurons, and the slowing down of our thought processes.
What's more, these lapses are also one of the most common symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, currently affecting around 500,000 people in the UK, alongside other signs such as:
- Difficulties with vocabulary and speech
- Difficulties with mobility
- Changes in mood or behaviour
- Feeling confused and disoriented
- Difficulties completing everyday tasks
While the exact cause of this condition isn’t clear, making total prevention difficult, it's still possible to reduce your chances of developing it.
We all know it's important to drink less alcohol and improve our diets, but there are also many fun ways to train your brain to stay sharp.
What? If you’ve always fancied learning to play a musical instrument, it has many benefits besides the enjoyment and sense of fulfilment it brings.
It’s thought that picking up a guitar or sitting down at a piano for at least an hour every week gives the brain a rigorous workout and improves thinking skills.
Why? Getting musical actually makes certain parts of the brain – specifically those that deal with motor skills, memory and hearing – grow, according to a study carried out by experts at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.
This in turn increases alertness and has a significant impact on everyday tasks such as planning and organisation.
Other advantages? Mastering a musical instrument can even increase your IQ score by seven points.
What? As the stars on Strictly Come Dancing show, learning to tango, foxtrot and rumba is hard work for the body.
But it’s also one of the only forms of physical activity that boosts our mental processes, a study in The New England Journal Of Medicine suggests.
Why? Certain styles that need you to improvise steps engage the brain by testing your ability to make split-second decisions.
Meanwhile, learning new moves exercises your memory, while also improving spatial awareness and mobility.
Other advantages? It can burn between 300 and 500 calories an hour.
Learn a language
What? Whether listening to French podcasts on your daily walk or taking Spanish classes every week, learning a language is one of the most rewarding hobbies around.
And having a degree of fluency in another tongue can work wonders on your brain, helping you to improve all-round intelligence.
Why? Using MRI scanners, scientists from Lund University, Sweden, have shown that people who can communicate in more than one language have developed brain activity, especially in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex areas, which have important roles in memory.
Other benefits? It greatly improves verbal fluency and reading skills, not to mention being a great help on holiday.
What? Doing crosswords every day is thought to delay the memory loss associated with dementia for just over two months.
Why? According to a study carried out at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York, crosswords, card games and talking in groups all play a part in strengthening the mind, making it more able to fight against decline.
Even better, if you can fit 11 such activities into your week, it will keep memory loss at bay for an additional one year and four months.
Other benefits? Doing the crossword with three friends can give you even more of a boost as you'll stimulate a greater numbers of brain cells.
Hit the sack
What? After all the crosswords, languages and music, you’ll need a bit of shut-eye – and research published in the journal Science shows that sleep plays a big part in memory.
Why? When we sleep deeply, new connectors between brain cells – known as synapses – are formed.
Other benefits? Getting enough rest has also been shown to lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Find out more about exercising your brain.