Dementia is arguably the greatest fear we have of old age.
And while you can't outright prevent it, there are things you can do now that will help protect your brain later from the ravages of the loss of memory, cognition, problem solving and language.
Lifestyle can make a big difference.
"More and more research is suggesting that lifestyle is very important to your brain's health," says Dr. Paul Nussbaum, a neuro-psychologist and an adjunct associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "If you want to live a long, healthy life, then many of us need to start as early as we can."
Nussbaum offers these 20 tips that may help your brain to age well:
Join clubs or organizations that need volunteers.
2. Take up a new hobby.
Trying something new and complex helps stimulate your brain.
3. Write with your non-dominant hand several minutes a day.
This will exercise the opposite side of your brain and fire up those neurons.
4. Take dance lessons.
Dancing is the only regular physical activity that has been associated with a significant decrease in the incidence of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. Ideally, you should dance three or four times a week.
5. Start a garden.
Before you even start digging in the dirt, planning the layout of the garden will require you to use visual and spatial reasoning.
6. Take a walk every day.
Caring for your cardiovascular health also helps maintain blood flow to the brain. Buy a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day.
7. Read and write daily.
Reading and writing (but not copying) stimulate a variety of brain areas that process and store information.
Using both hands works both sides of your brain. And it's a stress reducer.
9. Learn a new language.
Whether it's a foreign language or sign language, you are working your brain by making it go back and forth between one language and the other.
10. Play board games.
Scrabble and Monopoly are ideal, although solitaire and online computer games are also helpful.
11. Take a class.
Learning produces structural and chemical changes in the brain, and formal education appears to help people live longer.
12. Listen to classical music.
A growing volume of research suggests that music may hardwire the brain, building links between the two hemispheres. Any kind of music may work, but there's some research that shows positive effects for classical music, although researchers don't understand why.
13. Learn a musical instrument.
It may be harder than it was when you were a child, but you'll be developing a dormant part of your brain.
When you travel--be it to a distant vacation spot or a different route across town--you're forcing your brain to navigate a new and complex environment.
Daily prayer appears to help your immune system. And people who attend a formal worship service regularly live longer and report happier, healthier lives.
It's important for your brain that you learn to shut out the stresses of everyday life.
17. Get enough sleep.
Studies have shown a link between interrupted sleep and dementia.
18. Eat foods with omega-3 fatty acids.
This includes salmon, sardines, tuna, ocean trout, mackerel or herring, plus walnuts (which are higher in omega 3s than salmon) and flaxseed. Flaxseed oil, cod liver oil and walnut oil are good sources, too.
19. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables mop up some of the damage caused by free radicals, one of the leading killers of brain cells.
20. Eat at least one meal a day with family and friends.
You'll slow down, socialize and research shows you'll eat healthier food than if you eat alone or on the go.
--From the Editors at Netscape