Dementia and Mental Stimulation

A recent article in The Economist1 presented a report on the benefits of mental stimulation in warding off dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease. The research was lead by Robert Wilson of the University of Chicago. Research participants were asked how frequently they engaged in cognitively stimulating activities such as reading newspapers, books, and magazines. They were also asked how frequently they played challenging games like chess and visited museums. They also included watching television and listening to radio, which are typically not regarded as mentally stimulating activities. Then they followed these participants to learn what developed. They found that frequent activity of this sort seemed to slow the rate of cognitive decline. But they also found that in those who did develop Alzheimer’s Disease the decline was more rapid. This they regarded as bad news.

A number of points need to be made about this study. Most importantly, it should not be regarded as conclusive. More definitive studies will be done, and I would not be surprised if more specific types of mental activity were found that actually did ward off Alzheimer’s. But even if we take these results at face value, they provide strong evidence for the benefits of mental activity. From my perspective, even what they term as bad news, that the decline after Alzheimer’s is more precipitous, I regard as beneficial. Were I to suffer from Alzheimer’s, I would want my suffering to be as short as possible.

The Healthymemory Blog is dedicated to promoting mental activity not only to preclude or ward off mental decline, but also to provide cognitive enrichment. Although the primary audience for this blog is comprised of baby boomers, all should benefit. There are three basic categories of blog posts. The first category, Human Memory: Theory and Data, provides information on how memory works and how cognition both functions and malfunctions. Tips are provided on how to avoid common information processing errors. I find the field of human memory very interesting and I use this category to share my interests.

The second category is on mnemonic techniques. Mnemonic techniques are specific strategies for enhancing memory. In addition to enhancing memory, they also provide mental exercise. It does not appear that this type of mental stimulation was included in the Rush research. When you access this category it is important that blog post are ordered from most recent to the oldest. For this category in particular, it should be more beneficial to read them from the bottom up.

The third category is transactive memory. Transactive memory refers to external sources of information. These external sources can be found in either fellow humans or in technology. Although the newspapers, books, and magazines used in the Rush study are included, no uses of the internet were mentioned. The Healthymemory Blog believes that the internet provides resources for both mental stimulation and cognitive growth.

So mental stimulation should be regarded not only as a defensive mechanism to prevent or ward off mental decline, but also as an offensive, proactive practice to promote cognitive growth to lead to a richer and more fulfilling life.

1Brain Gain.(2010). September 4-10th p. 88.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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2 Responses to “Dementia and Mental Stimulation”

  1. billbirnbaum Says:

    I too read the article in The Economist. Yes, I’d agree that we should not take the results of this (or any one) study to be conclusive. However… one has nothing at all to lose, and a whole lot to gain, be increasing their level of mental activity. For, quite aside from the benefit of forestalling dementia, mental activity makes for a more interesting life. Bill

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