Love to Learn? Protect Yourself Against Dementia

According to a 2012 AARP membership survey, 87% of respondents reported they were extremely or very concerned about “staying mentally sharp.”  In fact, of the 10 areas listed as concerns in the survey, “staying mentally sharp” was the area of greatest concern, tied with “Medicare in the future.”

Julie Beck’s June 2014 article, “Study: An Intellectual Life Could Protect Against Dementia” in The Atlantic points to some hopeful news for aging Americans who are concerns about cognitive impairment.  The Mayo Clinic study, published in JAMA Neurology, supports the idea that staying mentally active could help stave off dementia.  According to Beck, “researchers found that ‘the protective effect of intellectual enrichment is primarily manifested as a relatively consistent higher cognitive performance over time” and “mental stimulation throughout a person’s life helped decrease the risk more than if they started cognitive activities in mid-life, but those with lower education levels benefitted more from mid and late life activity than those with higher education levels.”  And, Dr. Prashanthi Vemuri, assistant professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic and lead author on the study, determined that the brain is more likely sharper than starting later, but it’s never to late to start.

Protect Yourself Against Dementia with Brain Games

So, if staying mentally active can help protect yourself against dementia, what are some things you can do now?  Various organizations have compiled ideas, information, and resources for mental activities and brain health.

Alzheimer’s Association

  • Start with a small change, like a daily walk
  • Stay curious and involved – commit to lifelong learning
  • Read and write
  • Work on crosswords or other puzzles
  • Attend lectures and plays
  • Enroll in courses at a local adult education center, community college, or other community group
  • Play games
  • Garden
  • Try memory exercises

AARP Brain Health Center

Harvard Medical School

  • Keep learning
  • Use all your sense
  • Believe in yourself
  • Prioritize your brain use
  • Repeat what you want to know
  • Space it out – re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time


  • Learn something new
  • Speak in tongues – learn a second language
  • Read
  • Play chess
  • Try computer games
  • Work on (old-fashioned) puzzles
  • Get together with friends and take part in clubs
    • Card clubs
    • Chess clubs
    • Sewing/quilting circles
    • Volunteer

  • Play checkers
  • Read a newspaper or book for an hour
  • Write a letter
  • Do at least two mentally-stimulating activities a day
  • Play a mentally challenging game every day for several weeks

Additional Web Resources:

What do you do to keep your mind sharp? Share with us in the comments below!

Image via Flickr by O. Taillon

Post by Angela Stringfellow

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