This article appears in Winter Boomers magazine.
Research published in JAMA Neurology in September finds that increasing physical activity and social and cognitive engagement can help slow down memory loss.
As people age signs of mild cognitive impairment — things like forgetting where you put the car keys or having trouble multitasking — lead many to be concerned about developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr. Robin Casten, one of the authors of the research article.
“After retiring, many people feel they deserve to rest and relax, but the more you use the brain and body, the more protected you are from developing Alzheimer’s,” Casten said. Put more succinctly: If you don’t use it, you could lose it.
In a randomized, controlled study, researchers found that keeping the mind, body and social life active — if possible all three together — may help to significantly reduce memory loss. Study participants who set and met activity goals saw an 88 percent reduction in risk of memory loss compared to those who didn’t, according to the study, which is the first evidence that memory loss can be prevented in the high-risk population, Casten said.
Sticking with it
Like much good advice, it sounds easier than it is. Setting a goal is simple; sticking with it is harder. For example, only about 9 percent of people who set New Year’s resolutions ever complete them, according to Statistic Brain Research Institute.
The key is to set small, achievable goals and record your progress, Casten said. Focusing on activities that you enjoy and want to do will make committing to them easier.
“Eventually, if you do something often and consistently enough it becomes a habit. If something feels good, like successfully solving a crossword puzzle or finishing a book, it instills confidence and efficacy,” Casten said.
Involving relatives in your initiative can help motivate an individual, Casten said.
“Relatives can do their part by helping someone explore their interests and develop goals around those interests. They should also be sure all the necessary supplies are available. Put together a step-by-step to-do list of what’s needed. Offer reminders either through a phone call or on a calendar,” Casten said.
What to do
Set a goal to get the mind moving at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, Casten said. Some good mental health activities include reading or listening to books on tape, writing and playing cards, word games, puzzles or Sudoku.
Simple activities to get the blood flowing include stretching and walking, taking a few extra trips up and down the stairs or participating in an exercise class, which adds a social element.
Positive human interaction is key to improving mood, reducing stress and creating positive feelings, Casten said.