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Stimulate your brain
Education (not just in school, but lifelong) seems to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, perhaps by creating more neural pathways that can take over if some are damaged. “There could be plaque in your brain, but you’re rerouting,” Barclay said.
Learning a new skill — a musical instrument or language, chess, dancing — may be helpful, but only if you enjoy it, McCarten said. “If it’s stressful, that’s not healthy,” he said. “I think stress is bad, for your mental health and your brain health.” What about the often-advised crosswords and Sudoku? Again, do them if you enjoy them, but don’t bother if they feel like homework.
So you say you’ve been losing your keys a lot lately, or walking into rooms and forgetting what you went there for? You probably needn’t worry that you’re sliding into dementia, McCarten said.
“Isolated events aren’t what concern me nearly as much as family members who recognize a persistent problem that is getting progressively worse,” he said. “It’s people forgetting names, repeating themselves. They’ll ask ‘When’s the doctor’s appointment?’ then ask it again five minutes later and 10 minutes later, the same identical question. If I picked three things that tend to be hallmarks of somebody who may be developing a problem, it’s repeating themselves, relying more on notes and calendars [for basic tasks], and getting lost driving in an otherwise familiar area.”
After all, McCarten said, his wife loses her keys all the time. “We’re looking for them almost every day,” he said. “On the other hand, she’s never forgotten anything I’ve ever said.” □