Use it or lose it – a valid approach to staving off dementia?

A few years ago I began to fear I was suffering the early signs of dementia, one of the few things that terrifies me – as it should any normal person, but in my case my brain is one of the few parts that’s worked reliably for years (never mind the other parts – this is a family show!).

I downloaded a copy of the standard dementia diagnostic test and, frankly, one would have to be quite profoundly impaired to fail it. I didn’t, but it meant there was no point in talking to my GP, as he’d just trot out the same test (it has been beefed up since then).

So, figuring it might be a case of use it or lose it, I threw myself into writing for my blog, some days researching and  writing half a dozen posts, or more, a day (it was during this period that I got involved in benefits advice). As now, not all were worth publishing, but it kept me busy and, gradually, the problems abated until after a few months, I was back to normal, and have remained so.

I’ve also remained busy. If I’m not writing, then I’m online reading, looking for stuff to write about, or just for its own sake.

Today, though, it seems my use it or lose in theory might well have been on the right track, as this popped into  my Inbox a little while ago:-

Mental activities ‘good for the ageing brain’ in the NetDoctor newsletter.

I’ve not been able to track down anything more substantive so far, but as the research had a test population of just 152, and no control group so far as I can tell (though I think volunteers willing to potentially develop dementia would be thin on the ground), this really can’t be hailed as the breakthrough it’s being touted as in some newspapers. At best it’s an indication that “use it or lose it” might be a valid approach, but very much more research is needed, with larger test populations – it’s not like there’s a shortage of old people – before anything definitive comes of it.

Until that happens, working on the assumption that the theory is correct might very well benefit a lot of people, as it did me. It certainly can’t do any harm.


6 thoughts on “Use it or lose it – a valid approach to staving off dementia?

  1. I am a sufferer of fibromyalgia, as are you,
    I believe, and the main symptom for me is
    my ‘foggy’ brain. Also my short term
    memory is diabolical. Do you think that that
    alone makes it much more likely that I (and
    anybody with fibro) will suffer with dementia
    when I’m older? Which isn’t that far away to
    be honest! I’ll be 61 in January.
    Love your rants, by the way.

    • Hi Val, always good to hear from a fan.

      To the best of my knowledge, there is no link between brain fog and short-term memory loss, whether the cause is FMS or ME, and dementia, which is caused by observable physical changes in the structure of the brain, rather than by cognitive dysfunction. The current theory is that mental activity prevents those changes taking place.

  2. My mum is 82 and is committed to the notion of ‘use or lose it’, particularly where it applies to the brain. She’s lived alone for over 30 years since I left home and in order to keep her brain active has a number of daily activities.

    She loves crossword and other such puzzles, she plays scrabble and other similar word games as well as uses quiz books/games alone, and keep up with current affairs. And she’s sharper and smarter than most people I know half her age

    So I have to say I agree that doing something that requires ‘thinking’ is vital to maintain mental faculties.

    I also agree as fellow Fibro sufferer my short term memory is dreadful and I’m increasingly finding it much harder to find the right words for things, so I’ve got a dictionary on my toolbar

    Best to you both

    • Being unable to find the right word – aphasia – can be a feature of ME and, apparently, FMS too. It’s also one of the major indicators of dementia, and mine got so bad I could barely string half a dozen words together, which was what convinced me I was sliding towards dementia myself.

      It’s vastly improved now, but it also affects my typing (previously it was just speech), which is new, and I often find myself having to use alternative words in the hope that the right one will return before I’m finished. It doesn’t happen a lot, but if you occasionally come across a word that does the job, more or less, but isn’t a perfect fit, that’s probably why.

  3. Hi there,
    I was paranoid that I too might become demented as my mother did in old age. But as you said above I found that the standard dementia diagnostic test was a snap and having taken it I felt great. I may forget things for time to time but I don’t believe I’m displaying any symptoms and I’m hopeful that I never will.

    It seems that if one is a stay at home couch potato plugged into their boob-tube they may lose it. I’m a stay at home by and large but I’m not inactive and I’m not a TV junkie. I like learning new things and that’s what I’m doing.

    Things that stimulate our thought processes are learning new subjects and tasks, studying completely new subjects and even playing games and completing puzzles.

    I was amazed to find this online. Seniors who lifted weights or did other forms of resistance training slowed their decline to full-blown dementia, a study including B.C. researchers has found.

    I also found this. Researchers found that consuming cocoa every day helped improve mild cognitive impairment – a condition involving memory loss which can progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s – in elderly patients.

    There’s also evidence that learning a new language boosts brain power.

    So, if push comes to shove you will finding me lifting weights, eating chocolate and learning how to swear like a sailor in a foreign tongue. 😉

    • I can’t understand the “I can’t learn new stuff at my age,” mindset. They’re usually the same people whose taste in music became set in stone around the age of 23. If you’re actually paying attention, the learning process never ends, whether it’s figuring out the remote for a new TV, or cooking something you’ve never made before.

      I reckon I’ve probably learned more new stuff since I was 50 than I did before, including learning to drive a car (I was a biker) – aced the driving test!

      I used to work out with weights, a pair of 20lb dumbbells, twice a day, and I don’t know about dementia, but it has a huge feel-good effect, and boosts endurance enormously. Now though, I can’t even lift one of them 😦 ME causes rapid muscle loss if you don’t keep on top of it, and I didn’t.

      What the world needs, though, is beer that enhances brain cell function, instead of killing them off! 😉

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