This week, an Australian report on ageing summarised the best available research on preventing cognitive decline and dementia.
The report’s lead author, Professor Kaarin Anstey, has revealed that in order to ward off dementia, you should do an activity you're bad at. If you can play the piano, pick up the guitar. If you can solve the cryptic crossword in 10 minutes, tackle Sudoku.
Although many people have strategies to deal with the financial aspect of their retirement, many are not taking the same action for their mind.
Professor Anstey said, “It’s like investing in your superannuation. You need to invest in your brain over the course of your life so you have a nice healthy brain when you’re old.”
The report, published by the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing, highlights the top lifestyle risk factors for brain decline, including physical inactivity, midlife obesity and low education attainment.
Here is what the report suggests you do to avoid dementia:
1. Do an activity you are a bad at
If can do crosswords well but continue to do them, you are not necessarily keeping your brain fit. The brain needs new challenges, not just ones that are mentally demanding. Professor Anstey says activities such as learning a new instrument or studying a new language are good ways to keep your brain fit.
“People who can do a cryptic crossword in 10 minutes flat, it’s not challenging their brain any more.”
Studies also show that people who read, go to the theatre and visit museums regularly have a lower risk of cognitive decline.
2. Have healthy relationships
Previous research has found that living with someone, being married and volunteering all make women more resilient to dementia. Professor Anstey believes the result of this Canadian study was down to the differences in education between men and women. "We’re finding those educational differences are diminishing now with a younger cohort," she said.
For both genders, having friends and allocating time to socialise is very important to maintain a healthy mind.
“When you’re interacting with another person, that’s an intellectually stimulating activity. You’re using a lot of your brain to do that,” said Dr Maree Farrow, a researcher at the Wicking Dementia Research Centre in Hobart.
3. Stay fit
Dementia is also linked to poor heart health, particularly obesity, high-blood pressure and cholesterol. Exercise also reduces depression and pumps oxygen into your brain.
What do you do on a daily basis to keep your mind fit?