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Can Brain Stimulating Games Help Slow Down Aging?

Alzheimer's Disease (AD, DAT), Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI, aMCI), ETC

In an earlier article, Alzheimer's Disease and how human memory works have been discussed. Although researchers still do not have a definite solution for stopping AD, our current understanding is that “These findings suggest we should spend more time researching ways to slow down or stop the early stages of neuro-degeneration,” said Dr. DeKosky, M.D., professor of neurology, psychiatry, neurobiology and human genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. One established fact is that more brain stimulation in the young age will strengthen the brain to prevent early development of MCI or DAT. In this article, we extend the discussion on natural ways of maintaining memory function and slowing down aging.

Can We Really Slow Down Memory Aging?

Recently, there are clinical studies confirming the benefit of engaging brain stimulating activities for health. Marian Diamond, a neuroscientist and professor of neuroanatomy at the University of California at Berkeley, has scientifically shown that "With an enriched environment the brain grew and with an impoverished environment the brain decrease in size." The environment greatly influences the brain’s growth and learning. Also, chronic work stress causes the brain and body to depletes available nutrients, leaving nothing available for learning. Diamond's research established that the brain "has the ability to constantly change its structure and function in response to external experiences." (see reference publication below)

Researchers (see reference below) at Case Western Reserve Medical School in Cleveland compared the leisure time activities of more than 550 people, nearly 200 of whom went on to develop Alzheimer's. They found that those who had engaged in stimulating activities throughout their life - everything from reading, doing crossword puzzles, and playing bridge, chess, or board games to visiting friends, practicing a musical instrument, and bicycling-were 2 1/2 times less likely to get Alzheimer's. (Alzheimer’s disease is a mental condition that affects the portion of the brain that controls thought, memory, and language.) Although the risk of developing the disease increases with age, it is not a normal part of aging. Currently, the cause of the disease is unknown and there is no known cure.

Brain-stimulating activities such as newspaper-reading, card games, puzzles and draughts had been shown in "the best study of the problem so far" to lower the risk of Dementia, claimed Prof Lawrence Whalley, professor of mental health at Aberdeen University, who was challenging the widespread conventional wisdom that intelligence - as in the case of the novelist Iris Murdoch - and use of the mind are no protection against Alzheimer's. He declared: "The greater the mental activity at the beginning of the study, the lower the risk of dementia." (see reference below)

The brain is like a muscle: Use it or lose it. Today's research offers evidence showing that taking steps to protect your brain can prevent a decreased memory and slowed wit. Mental exercise is crucial. It begins when parents read to their children. But it is never too late to stimulate the brain. Reading, doing crossword puzzles, and playing board games such as chess and word games which stimulate the brain to think. 

So, it is save to say that we can slow down aging especially brain aging by stimulating it. If what you do now can delay a few years of getting any brain or memory disease, you will be doing yourself a great favor. Why? The extra few years may mean that an affordable drug may become available to stop or cure DAT entirely.

What Games Can We Play for Health Benefit?

In today's fast speed and schedule-driven work and social environment, people very much need to relax and spend time with family members and friends for both physical and mental health reasons. Consequently, many games have been invented to provide entertainment and family interaction. Unfortunately, many games are of the category that they do not stand the test of time because they don't provide the right challenge to people's brains. These generally are the "luck" games by throwing a die and following instructions or games. Or they are only stimulating finger and eye coordination (pull the trigger type) with little thinking activities. Or games based on "trivia" which do require memory (the declaration type) but not necessarily helping the neurostructure of the brain so to slow down or stop the early stages of neuro-degeneration.  In fact, some of the games are wasting precious time of young children whose brains are in development which can benefit from healthy stimulation and learning. Learning is an important aspect of stimulating the brain.

We have presented a list of games for improving memory and brain function in the earlier article. They are repeated here below. Except, in the list below, the Braino Scrammble (TM) © game invented by the author is now listed on top not on the bottom. The reason is that this game is invented with the health benefit in mind. It not only provides the fun and entertainment elements of a game but also contains all the positive elements of a good game, namely, strategy, memory, thinking, alertness and variety which stimulate the brain. Most importantly, the game provides learning opportunity both through words, language, sentences and mathematical operations. The game compares well with the time-tested games such as Scrabble, Poker and Majong. In fact, there are at least three games contained in the Scrammble game set, called Scrammble (Word), Scrammble (Word) Poker and Scrammble (Word) Ma-jong. (TM) ©  The strategy involved in winning the games sure challenges the neuro-structure of the brain and yet these games are extremely fun to play for all ages. If this sounds too intriguing or too commercial, please do visit the web sites of Scrammble(TM) © below to judge for yourself. 

Games for Improving Memory and Brain Function

1. Braino Scrammble (TM) © Invented by Dr. Chang: http://www.mi-card.com/magic/scrammbleorder.html http://www.mwsearch.com/mwspressdec703.htm

2. From NASA: http://olias.arc.nasa.gov/cognition/tutorials/index.html

3. From Pat's Page: http://www.exo.net/jaxxx/activitymemory.html#anchor29455

4. Fun Game with Kids: http://www.funbrain.com/cgi-bin/fm.cgi

5. from Queendom: http://www.queendom.com/mindgames/index.html

In conclusion, As more people are getting older, it is important to understand the human aging process. If there is a natural way for slowing down the aging process, by all means we should promote it. As the US population is getting older, our government and health industry are focusing on aging services. For instance, the coming conference, Future of Aging Services Conference, March 15-17, 2004, Washington DC, sponsored by American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging is focusing on technology, policy and research related to aging services. Perhaps, the more important question is whether our society should also pay attention to preventing aging and extending productive life in the same time as paying attention to aging services. 

References

Brain Growth and Enrichment, Marion Diamond, http://www.mathmatters.net/enrich.htm 

Positive Mental Attitudes May Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease and Stroke, http://www.methodisthealth.com/news/mindbody/march2002/

People playing bridge, chess, or board games were 2 1/2 times less likely to get Alzheimer's. http://www.clarian.org/content/rodales/10371.jhtml

Related articles by Dr. Chang: 

Human Memory, Alzheimer's Disease and Drugs in Development

Schizophrenia, Olanzapine (Zyprexa) and Risperidone (Resperdal)

Written by Ifay Chang, Ph.D. on Dec. 21, 2003

Dr. Chang is the co-founder of Medical World Search which offers an intelligent medical search engine, called MWSearch. MWSearch is an independent search service without affiliation with any healthcare organization or drug companies. Medical World Search ( www.mwsearch.com ) has been offered for public use since 1996.

In early 90's, while working as a research scientist at IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, Dr. Chang led a group of researchers developing an advanced clinic information system with the purpose of supporting efficient and reliable healthcare practice. The system has been adopted by Kaiser Permanente and other healthcare organizations. Dr. Chang writes articles for MWSearch from time to time.

This article is copyrighted but you may use it or reproduce it in part or in whole with proper acknowledgement made. The author can be reached at ifay@mwsearch.com


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