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Geisinger becomes the first member of Risant Health

Mind games could keep your brain sharp

Alzheimer’s disease affects 5.4 million people, and as the number of Americans over 65 increases, so will the number of people affected by the disease. 

Alzheimer’s disease causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, and while it’s normal to occasionally forget things as you get older, Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal part of aging. 

“Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory and thinking problems that are bad enough to impact real world activities, accounting for 60 percent or more of dementia cases,” said behavioral neurologist Glen R. Finney, MD, director of the Memory and Cognition Program at Geisinger. “It generally affects people older than 65; however, in some cases, it can affect younger people.”

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease with no cure, and treatment can’t stop Alzheimer’s disease from progressing. However, researchers believe there are things most people can do to try and delay the onset of symptoms or stop them from progressing at a fast rate. 

One way researchers believe you may be able to delay the start of dementia is through brain training. 

“The idea behind brain training is that just as exercise helps you keep your body in good shape, mental exercises help your brain stay in good shape,” said Dr. Finney. 

A study published in Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions revealed that brain-training activities can reduce the risk of dementia. The type of training in that study is called “speed-of-processing,” where a person quickly identifies and remembers an object in front of them. 

During the study, participants were randomly placed in one of three training groups: one for verbal memory skills training, one for reasoning and problem-solving skills and another for speed-of-processing training. During speed-of-processing training, participants identified an object in front of them, as well as objects in their peripheral vision. As the game continues, participants had less time to identify objects and also faced distractions on the screen. 

The group of participants that received speed-of-processing brain-training sessions saw a 29 percent decreased risk of dementia after 10 years. However, researchers note that more studies need to be done to determine why speed-of-processing brain training is effective, as opposed to other types of brain training.  

So, should you focus on brain training to prevent dementia? 

“While it’s unclear if games geared specifically toward dementia and Alzheimer’s prevention actually work, there’s evidence that keeping your mind sharp and taking good care of yourself can help keep your brain healthy, too,” said Dr. Finney. 

Lifestyle habits, such as getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week and eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy, may promote brain health.

In addition, staying mentally and socially active as you age may help to keep your brain healthy. You should consider activities such as taking adult education classes, reading a challenging book, doing crossword puzzles or other tasks that expose your mind to new tasks. 

“Staying socially active by volunteering or participating in community activities can also help to keep your mind sharp,” said Dr. Finney. 

Dr. Glen Finney is a behavioral neurologist at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. The Memory and Cognition Program offers support groups for patients and caregivers. To find a local, no-cost session, visit and search “support.
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