Staying physically active and engaging in mental stimulation may help keep seniors more alert, according to the results of a new study.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco found the thinking and memory skills of 126 inactive senior participants improved after they started performing daily activities designed to stimulate their bodies and brains.
This comes as encouraging news considering the growing number of seniors who deal with some form of dementia now living in the U.S., and future predictions of what the future could hold for the number of Alzheimer’s patients. Currently, over half of all seniors over the age of 85 suffer from some type of dementia, and a recent study conducted at the Rush Institute of Healthy Aging has predicted that the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s will triple by 2050.
Researchers caution that the results of this study shouldn’t be interpreted as a cure for Alzheimer’s, only that evidence exists that making small changes in mental and physical activity has led to positive a difference in a person’s thinking and memory skills. The minimal level of increased output researchers have found make a difference means this technique is available to most able seniors. Just learning a few new words in a foreign language and taking several short walks a week, for example, will provide seniors a noticeable benefit several months later.
The results of this study were published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine
As part of the study, researchers divided participants, who were all over the age of 65 (average of 73), into four groups. Researchers then asked each group to engage in some kind of mental stimulation for one hour a day and some time of physical activity for one hour a day, and to repeat this process three days a week for three months.
The type of activity performed by each group varied from the mild- watching educational DVDs and participating in low-effort stretching classes- to the more rigorous- playing intensive computer games designed to train the brain and aerobic dance classes.
Prior to the study, all participants admitted to having their thinking and memory skills decline, however, after completing the three month program, seniors in every group showed in an improvement in thinking and memory skills, regardless of the activities they performed.
This study has helped to build off of researchers’ previous understanding of dementia, which believed that maintaining an active mental and physical lifestyle was key to delaying and possibly preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Previous studies have found that individuals who participated in 30-minute walking or weight training sessions three times a week showed a measurable improvement in their memory and thinking skills.
While the findings of this research are encouraging, researchers stressed that seniors need to tailor the type of mental and physical activities they engage in on their own personal ability and preference, and not rely on any general guidelines.
Seniors who find mobility difficult, for example, may find walking three times a week challenging, and would need to find a comparable alternative, such as stretching or performing tai chi. Individuals may also find a variety of different subject mentally engaging, and should find an activity they find interesting rather than limiting themselves to learning foreign words or watching documentaries.
Whatever activities a senior decides to use, the benefits offered by staying mentally and physically engaged have become hard to forget.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Jeromy Dixon, a dentist in Longview, WA.