By Hester Anderiesen Le Riche, PhD – CEO, creator and founder of pioneering cognitive stimulation system, the Tovertafel.
As we age, maintaining our cognitive wellbeing becomes of greater concern, especially as the Alzheimer’s Society predicts that 1.6 million people will be living with dementia by 2024.
Without a ‘cure’ or treatment to reverse the damage caused by the disease, people increasingly wonder – is there anything we can do to maintain cognitive wellbeing?
The good news is – there is! Despite being unable to ‘heal’ our brains, or prevent dementia from developing altogether, we can in fact delay the point at which symptoms begin. In Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of cases), the first signs are short term memory loss or difficulties planning consecutive steps of an activity. These functions lie within the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain where we can make a difference.
We can protect this frontal lobe by enjoying a healthy, active and stimulating life. The following 5 lifestyle habits will support the ‘cognitive reserve’, the protective layer that prevents damage to the brain-building this shield is actually lots of fun!
Keep physically active
Although there is no need for a marathon a day, a brisk 20-minute walk or a more challenging cycle can be very effective in keeping your mind stimulated. By taking up some form of physical activity each day, you keep the brain motivated and challenged – which has huge benefits for your cognitive health!
Whilst it’s easy for socialising to fall off our radar (especially in present times where we are socialising less than ever before) it is key for strengthening your brain. I’d recommend dedicating some time every day to socialising of some kind – whether that be by meeting a friend for a walk in the park or simply catching up with a relative over the phone. And when the time finally comes, meeting new people is a particularly powerful way to boost your brain health!
Creativity boosts the brain’s capacity as it helps to build connections in the brain which prevent memory loss and preserve cognitive functions. A great way to explore your creative side could be to take up painting or drawing, cook a new recipe from scratch, or even try your hand at writing a short story or screenplay!
Get in touch with your musical side
It’s never too late to take up a new instrument or return to an old one. You don’t have to be the next Mozart! Playing an instrument is all about making new neural connections within and between the different areas of the brain. These connections can make you more resistant to the effects of cognitive challenges that may develop later in life.
Another fantastic way to maintain your cognitive wellbeing is to get inspired and get curious by experiencing new cultures and foreign concepts. Whilst we usually can do this through travelling, you can currently still enjoy activities such as learning a new language, educating yourself about life in other countries through books and documentaries.
About the expert
Hester Anderiesen Le Riche, PhD, is an expert in how play can improve the quality of life of those living with cognitive challenges and learning disabilities. Based on years of research with people with cognitive challenges and their carers, as well as her training as a social engineer, Hester developed the world’s first interactive light game for those with cognitive challenges – the Tovertafel. For more information, please visit www.tover.care/uk/