For grandparents, there’s nothing like time spent with grandchildren to keep you on your toes. Little ones keep you young when it comes to physical activity, but it may also be true when it comes to brain health. A new study shows that post-menopausal women who babysit their grandkids as they age may prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

“It makes sense that occasionally babysitting the grandkids can stave off cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s,” said Maya L. Lichtenstein, MD, MHS, a neurologist at Geisinger Wyoming Valley in Wilkes-Barre and Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital. “You’re staying social by talking with and caring for them, and you’re likely also staying physically active.”

Importantly, the study showed that while spending some time babysitting grandchildren —about one day a week — improved or maintained brain function, spending more time with grandchildren may decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Social interaction, whether it’s between adults or a grandparent and grandchild, can help keep the brain active and healthy as you age. A combination of maintaining a healthy diet and staying mentally and physically active, along with continued social interaction, provides even more protection against Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s unclear what causes Alzheimer’s, and there is no cure for it. But research suggests Alzheimer’s disease may be the result of a plaque build-up in the brain or nerve cells that get tangled. Staying socially, mentally and physically active reduces the amount of brain cell damage that appears with Alzheimer’s and even helps new brain cells to form.

In addition to quality time with the grandchildren, older adults should focus on keeping the brain active by learning something new. You can do this by reading or taking classes, taking up a new hobby, strengthening memory by practicing memorization techniques, challenging the brain with riddles and puzzles like crosswords or Sudoku, or exploring new walking or driving routes.

"Changing your habits regularly helps improve your cognitive function and can boost your memory as you age, which can help delay dementia,” said Dr. Lichtenstein.

Alzheimer’s disease typically affects people over 60 and begins with mild memory loss. In the early stages, it might be unclear whether memory loss is a result of the disease or just simply getting older.

As the disease progresses, it becomes more difficult to remember events and details, and carry on conversations.

People with Alzheimer’s may forget who their loved ones and close relatives are, they may get confused easily, and they may lose the ability to complete simple tasks like dressing or feeding themselves.

“We don’t have a cure and we don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s, but this study, like others, shows that continuing to live a healthy lifestyle into our senior years may help prevent the symptoms of a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Lichtenstein.