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Giving the Brain a Treat

At this present time, the causes of dementia, which is the term given to a range of mental diseases, are not known. Dementia can involve a decline in memory, problems with speech, thinking ability and emotional problems. There are also no known cures.
There is evidence, however, of ways of reducing the risk of dementia developing or getting worse.

An international study in the Lancet medical journal claimed that it is possible to prevent one in three cases of dementia with the correct health practices throughout life.
It is estimated that nearly 50 million people suffer from some form of the condition worldwide and the situation is only getting worse.

Research from 24 international experts produced the study and the conclusion was that 35% of the risk of dementia is created by a combination of these factors:-

  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hearing loss
  • Failing to finish secondary education
  • Lack of treatment for depression
  • Social isolation

All these factors are within a person’s control during their lifetime. Dementia usually shows up in older people but changes in the brain will be developing years earlier. The experts talk of having a ‘cognitive reserve’, which is strengthening of the brain’s networks from an early age. This should maintain mental function much better into old age.

Although reduction in memory and cognitive ability tends to come with age, it does not have to be that way. Serious diseases like heart problems, diabetes, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and excessive stress can contribute to increased dementia.

The calcium and phosphate found in vitamin D is important for healthy bones, muscles and teeth.
It’s also good for the brain, strengthening the genes within the brain involved in synaptic connections and neurotransmission.
The best source of vitamin D is sunshine but it is also in some foods.

  • oily fish – mackerel, herrings, sardines, trout, salmon, caviar
  • liver
  • egg yolks
  • some fortified breakfast cereals

In the P.G. Wodehouse stories about Jeeves and Wooster, Jeeves’ super brain power is always credited to his healthy diet of oily fish (Imagine a Smiley face here).

All the factors which can bring on dementia are not known, but genetics is said to have some bearing. Research into the problem is considerable so breakthroughs might come any time.

The brain is the last organ in the human body to be fully developed, and this doesn’t happen until a person is about 25 years old. In the same way that people grow physically at different rates, so people’s brains develop at different rates. A child might be quite short for its age at 12 then suddenly shoot up in height in a few years. Similarly, a child might seem extremely unintelligent at the age of 15 and be written off as a no-hoper, then become very intelligent and keen to learn two years later, getting a PhD at university and becoming a successful business person.

Like many aspects of health, a lot depends on the genes we inherit. Some genes are associated with longevity. For good health, we should choose healthy grandparents and healthy parents.
But everything cannot be blamed on genes – our genes are not set in stone. Our lifestyle and behaviour can change our DNA and this adjustment is passed on to the next generation; it’s known as epigenetics.

Some research seems to suggests that doing tasks like sudoku puzzles and cryptic crosswords makes you better at doing such puzzles but doesn’t translate into better brain power all round. This seems rather unlikely; any specific exercise for the brain must do it some good in an overall sense. Trying to understand many computer manuals is plenty of mental exercise for most people. The mental agility developed with video games does seem to have a larger transfer effect within the brain.

Dancing is also effective for maintaining mental ability, coordination and balance.
Physical exercise is as important for a healthy brain as for a healthy body. Aerobic exercise pumps more oxygen around the brain as well as around the body, improving its executive and cognitive performance