DIMENSIONS Spring 2004


by Linda Teri, Ph.D.

Q. Can doing games and puzzles can help my memory and prevent Alzheimer’s?

A. There has been a lot written recently about the usefulness of keeping your brain alert and active. You can think of this as “use it or lose it.” Our ability to think and retain information is influenced by the health of our brain. The brain is a collection of neurons and connections between those neurons. (Of course, it is also much more than that, but this will suffice for now.) Neurons can die or become diseased because of a variety of situations, such as a head injury, stroke, or a dementing illness. As much as you can, avoiding injury and maintaining a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) may help protect you from these kinds of injuries.

It is the connections between the neurons, however, that we might have the most control over. There is reason to believe that we are able to ‘build’ these connections no matter how old we are. So, the question becomes, how do you keep these connections healthy and maybe, even build new ones?

Staying mentally challenged may be the key. Some research has shown that we can actually improve our scores and time on a variety of cognitive tasks by practicing those tasks and doing things that cause us to use our brains in new and stimulating ways.. It is almost as if if we use our brain, we can help it “stretch and grow.” Take up a hobby. Learn something new. Engage in conversation. Do crossword puzzles. Read.

Did you know that your brain waves when you watch TV are similar to when you sleep? Step away from the set. Get out. Meet people. Challenge yourself. Although the brain isn’t really a muscle, you can think of it as one. Use it or lose it. Don’t let it get flabby and out of shape. As you do this, you will also probably note that you are enjoying life more. And, isn’t that a great benefit?

Please note, however, that sometimes brain disease happens no matter what we do. We need to be careful not to think that people who have trouble with their memory have somehow caused it or been lazy. We all know people who have had a heart attack, even though they exercised and ate well…or who had lung cancer but never smoked. Do what you can to help yourself and your loved ones but never lose your compassion for those who suffer these terrible brain diseases.

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