Can you "invest" in a healthy brain?
Monday 8th September
Here we ask the experts whether brain-training games and often expensive supplements can help reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Over the past few years, brain-training games and puzzles have become increasingly popular, with enthusiasts believing that playing them helps build and/or maintain mental sharpness. There are also a wealth of supplements on sale in high-street chemists and health food shops, that are thought to help with brain function. So is brain training a waste of time – or can it be genuinely helpful in preventing dementia?
“It doesn't seem to be,” says Jessica Smith, a research officer with Alzheimer's Society. “Certainly the evidence that we have for people under the age of 60 shows that you get really good at that one thing, but it doesn't reduce your risk of dementia. It doesn't mean that you're going to get better at everything else.”
While mental stimulation is known to help reduce the risk of dementia, it's difficult to prescribe a set method. “There's no specific thing – we can't just say 'do a crossword',” Jessica explains. “Mental stimulation is different for everybody. Some people might find it by reading a challenging book, some people might find it learning a language and others through a mentally stimulating job. It's about keeping your brain active, in a range of different aspects, not just one thing.”
In terms of vitamin supplements and herbal medicines, these popular remedies have not been proven to reduce the risk of dementia. “There's no good evidence on any of these supplements,” says Jessica. “People are looking into and conducting research into a range of different vitamins to see whether perhaps a lack of those vitamins might increase your risk and whether supplementation may help.
“There's no evidence that supplementing is at all beneficial in healthy people. What researchers are looking into at the moment is whether vitamin deficiencies may increase your risk and whether it will help people who develop Alzheimer's disease, for example, to take that vitamin. But there's no conclusive evidence on that yet.”
The Alzheimer's Society itself has conducted a study into gingko biloba. “It's a herb which people had thought improved memory, but we found that, it doesn’t.”
The best advice is to provide mind and body with essential nutrients by eating well. “The evidence around long-term supplementation with artificial vitamins is that they are not very good for you, and sometimes can be quite harmful, so we certainly wouldn't recommend that for healthy people,” says Jessica. “You should get all the vitamins you need from a healthy, balanced diet.”
You'll find additional articles from benenden health on mental wellbeing and dementia issues at A Healthier You.
You can find out more about the risk factors for dementia on the Alzheimer's Society website.
If you have concerns about Alzheimer's disease or about any other form of dementia, Alzheimer's Society National Dementia Helpline 0300 222 1122 can provide information, support, guidance and signposting to other appropriate organisations.
Did you know that members of benenden health have access to our 24-hour GP advice line