‘Brain training’ can prevent memory loss later in life

WASHINGTON — The numbers are chilling. Millions of Americans have some form of dementia, and that number is expected to skyrocket in the decades ahead.

But some things can be done years before age-related memory loss sets in to reduce the risk. They include exercising both the body and the mind.

“There is a great deal of evidence that keeping the brain active and stimulated is very important as we age,” says Jason Brandt, director of the Division of Medical Psychology at Johns Hopkins and an expert on memory disorders.

Brain training programs available on the market do a good job, Brandt says, but adds there are other ways to give your brain a workout that don’t cost a dime.

“You have to be mentally engaged — but what the engagement is really doesn’t matter,” he says, noting that just about any mental activity will do the trick, as long as it is challenging.

Playing bridge is fine; so is participating in a book club, or even playing along with a television game show such as “Wheel of Fortune” or “Jeopardy.”

Brandt says there are two rules: Any brain exercise needs to be intellectually difficult, and it must be performed at least four to five times a week for at least 20 minutes a session.

It’s one of the best ways to prevent age-related memory loss, along with practical measures such as wearing a helmet on a bike or motorcycle to prevent head injury, avoiding excessive use of alcohol and dangerous drugs, and maintaining a healthy diet.

“Memory pills” sold largely online, Brandt says, are pretty much a waste of money. He says there are tons of products out there — including hormones, steroids and supplements — with no proof any of them work.

About 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that number may nearly triple by 2050.

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