Tuesday, February 14, 2012

iPads to Prevent Dementia?

When I speak about Alzheimer's disease, people often ask what they can do to help prevent this debilitating illness. Although scientists have looked at innumerable medical interventions such as hormone replacement (estrogen), ginkgo biloba, anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen), Vitamin E, and many others, we have yet to find the right answer. The best evidence medical trials today suggest that our primary prevention lies in all the health maintenance strategies that prevent heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes- namely a healthy diet high in vegetables and fruits & low in "junk", plus regular aerobic exercise.

Additionally, many studies have shown some benefit from "cognitive activities", meaning brain exercises, through puzzles such as word games (crossword puzzles or word searches) or number challenges such as sudoku. Is there a way technology might help? Why not? I believe the act of learning new skills in any format will help, regardless of whether it is an old-fashioned crossword puzzle from the Sunday paper, or learning to use... well, yes, an iPad. Let me say now that no, I do not have stock in Apple, though perhaps I should. And, I'm sure any electronic tablet will fit the bill. That being said, let me share our family's personal experience.

We gave my mother-in-law (who looks amazingly younger than her actual age, which I am not allowed to reveal) an iPad 2 for Christmas so that we could "face time" (video chat, for those uninitiated) with her, which would feel more intimate than just a phone call. Although she is very educated (a former RN), she has never had a computer or a cell phone, so we were uncertain how much use she would get beyond this function. May I brag that she is now texting like a teen? She is able to read and follow her favorite blogs, listen to Bible verses, enjoy interactive Rosaries, and best of all, "chat" with us throughout the day. We can text her pictures on the spot, and engage her in our daily lives more easily. As she is eagerly learning these new skills, I can picture those neurons firing up like crazy, and I have to think that her brain is reveling in the new stimulation.

BOTTOM LINE: You're never too old to learn a new skill, and when you do- your brain will thank you!

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