If you sweat and swear over Sudoku, but believe the mental struggle is good for your brain, you’re wrong.
"You should not be doing anything that you don’t enjoy," said Maria Mathews, client support manager with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba.
Mathews spoke to about 35 people attending a "lunch and learn" session offered by Headingley Seniors Services on Nov. 19. Her goal was to pass on tips for keeping your brain healthy and possibly forestalling the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
She provided an overview of dementia, a condition that will affect about 11% of the population at some point in their lives. While the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease — representing 63% of total dementia cases — vascular dementia affects approximately 20%.
She likens the physical nature of dementia to clutter in the brain that interferes with normal functioning, as impulses aren’t transmitted properly.
There seems to be a familial link in dementia, and identifying the link can help with early diagnosis.
Despite advice that older people can use puzzles to keep mentally sharp, Mathews said, challenging the brain with new activities is better.
For example, brush your teeth or hair with your non-dominant hand.
"We want you to always be thinking about your next action," she said.
Learning new dance steps would also qualify. Dancing also includes socializing, which is another recommended activity for older adults, Mathews said.
Good nutrition is important, and she credits older people with having eaten mainly healthy foods while growing up, since fast foods weren’t generally available.
Preventing head trauma by using prescribed walking devices is another way to ward off dementia. "You should be sure to use your cane or walker in your home because there are usually more trip hazards in the home," she said.
"You don’t normally find a pair of shoes scattered in a public hallway."
She also warned her audience that in-person contact is the best way to judge whether or not someone is being affected by dementia. "You can be fooled if you only talk on the phone," she said, since verbal skills can remain strong. By visiting the person in their home, you can tell if they’re having trouble dressing, grocery shopping, cooking or cleaning — any of which are red flags.
"You just can’t (provide care) from afar," she said.