Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, or loss in mental faculties – 1 in 11 Canadians over 65 are affected to varying degrees. As the Canadian population ages, the number affected is estimated to increase to 1 million over the next 25 years. While there is no cure, some drugs may be able to slow progression of the disease – and of course exercising your mind, as you would any part of your body, will help keep your mind active.

Who Are Most Often Affected

Some risk factors cannot be altered; however, recognizing that you have an increased risk means you can exercise your brain keeping it healthier longer:

  • Increased age; however, about 5% to 10% are affected before age 65.
  • If one or more family members are affected, the risk increases.
  • More women than men are affected, but that may be because women live longer.
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure seems to increase the risk.
  • High cholesterol seems to be linked.
  • Poorly controlled diabetes may contribute.
  • Head injuries, even when you were younger, may increase the risk.
  • Some studies implicate smoking as a contributing factor.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse can increase susceptibility.
  • Lower education seems to be a risk factor, but there may be other associated socioeconomic reasons such as poor diet and health.

Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Because of the gradual nature of the condition, Alzheimer’s disease may go unnoticed by family and friends, and because it is associated with aging, it may be dismissed as just getting older. Some of the signs include:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Problems with language
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Poor or decreased judgment
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Misplacing items
  • Mood or behaviour changes
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of initiative

Exercising Your Mind

Research has shown that if you exercise your mind, you’ll have a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some activities that will challenge your brain:

  • Use your other hand to brush your teeth or comb your hair
  • Do mind games – crosswords, sudokus, word puzzles
  • Read books, magazines, newspapers
  • Write letters, keep a journal or diary
  • Talk regularly with family, friends, co-workers
  • Pursue social activities – visit a museum, go to a concert, attend a play
  • Take up a new hobby – pottery, woodworking, scrapbooking
  • Play games – cards, charades, board games
  • Take on new challenges – learn a word a day, attend an educational program
  • Learn to play music, to cook, or to speak a new language
  • Try something completely different – read about architecture, do math problems