August 13, 2008

A Riddle or A Hug? Lifestyle Factors That Can Prevent and/or Treat Dementia

I'd unravel ev'ry riddle,
For an individ'le
In trouble or in pain.
With the thoughts you'd be thinkin'
You could be another Lincoln,
If you only had a brain.
- Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz

Just to register emotion
"Jealousy," "devotion"
And really feel the part.
I could stay young and chipper
And I'd lock it with a zipper
If I only had a heart.
- Tin Man, The Wizard of Oz

It seems that the Scarecrow and the Tin Man may have been on to something....Although modern medicine has yet to find a cure for dementia, it appears that the prevention and treatment of dementia fall within the areas of cognitive fitness (a.k.a. the power of thinkin') and social interaction (a.k.a. the ability to register emotion). Now, the Scarecrow may have been cravin' a brain and the Tin Man a heart, but in the real world of medicine, it's likely that both the brain and the heart hold equal sway over dementia.

The August 12, 2008 article published on washingtonpost.com, "Is It Really Smart to Teach Old Brains New Tricks?", discusses the recent marketing and popularity of computer brainteasers. What the Post calls "the brain-game craze," first began with the 2005 launch of Nintendo's Brain Age. Inspired by the work of prominent Japanese neuroscientist Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, Nintendo advertises that its Brain Age games feature activities designed to help stimulate your brain through cognitive exercise that will improve blood flow to the brain and, therefore, help increase and maintain brain function in aging brains. But as neuroscientist Denise C. Park says in the article, even though epidemiological studies suggest that people who are mentally engaged tend to get Alzheimer's later than others, it's too soon to know if there are long-term gains from computer brain teasers. Additionally, Park worries that "if people get too engrossed in these computer games, maybe they're not exercising or engaging with other people."

This then leads us to an alternative method of healing: the power of the human heart and social interaction....

In an August 10, 2008, Boston Globe article, Neil Munshi profiles 89-year-old Sol Rogers who uses a lot of hugs and kisses to help cope with his 61-year-old, Alzheimer-stricken wife. By singing his wife old songs, taking her out to the garden, or simply lying in bed with her and telling her how much he loves her, Sol has not only boosted his own ability to cope with her dementia but he has also increased his wife's communication and mobility skills. Furthermore, according to a new study reported by the Alzheimer's Association, regular social interaction can be so helpful as we age that those who are unmarried or not living with a partner in midlife could have an increased risk of developing Alzehimer's.

So what does this all mean? Rather than suggesting we all run out and purchase a Nintendo or make a quick dash to the altar, I believe that these articles and studies suggest that, although aging maintains its mysteries, research shows that our brains' destinies don't lie solely with our genetics--we also have the power to make lifestyle decisions that can help maintain healthy brains.


To read the above mentioned articles in their entirety: