How to Maintain Your Brain
Eighty-five year-old Gloria Vanderbilt has a new erotic novel out. Justice John Paul Stevens, 89, continues to crank out opinions from his perch on the Supreme Court of the United States. And journalist Daniel Schorr, who will soon be 93, is still providing incisive commentaries on NPR.
So why is it that they and others like them in their ninth or tenth decades of life manage to stay sharp, while many of their peers decline mentally and succumb to dementia?
It's a question that scientists continue to ponder and debate. A new study in the journal Neurology offers a few clues. For eight years, researchers followed 2500 people in their 70s, repeatedly testing the subjects' cognitive abilities. They found that over time, about half performed slightly worse on tests, and 16 percent showed major decline. But about one-third experienced no decline or even improved their test scores.
The scientists looked for characteristics that distinguished the non-decliners from everyone else. Some of the factors are things we can't do much about: Those who stayed sharp tended to have more social support, be more literate, and have at least a ninth grade education. But other, controllable factors also appeared to play a role: People who weighed less, got regular moderate or vigorous exercise, and didn't smoke were more likely to maintain their cognitive skills, as were those who still worked or volunteered.
If you listen to ads and claims on the Web, you may be led to believe that special brain-boosting puzzles, DVDs, and software are necessary for keeping your brain fit. For the truth about what measures are--and are not--proven, watch this Healthy Skeptic segment and listen to this interview with Dr. Sam Wang, co-author of Welcome to Your Brain.
Or, if you don't want to overload your brain, just remember this: Live a healthy lifestyle and stay active, both physically and mentally.