Understanding Dementia Better
With an aging population there is an increase in the number of people who are being affected by Dementia. While we can’t reverse the affects, there are ways to delay the onset.
Here, we will help you understand at a high level, what it is, how to spot it, and most importantly, what can be done to help delay its onset (if not prevent entirely).
What is Dementia?
According to Dementia Australia “Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Brain function is affected enough to interfere with the person’s normal social or working life.”
There are many forms of Dementia with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTD), Huntington’s disease, Alcohol-related dementia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Who does Dementia affect?
Dementia usually develops in people aged 65 or older with roughly 1 in 15 people diagnosed but can also occur in people as young as their 40’s called ‘Younger Onset dementia’ (dementia in people under the age of 65). It also impacts on the lives of everyone connected with the affected person so watching for the signs and looking at the ways to delay the onset and reduce risk will benefit everyone associated.
Are there any symptoms of Dementia that I should be aware of?
Whether you are trying to assess whether you yourself are symptomatic or whether a loved one might be, it is very difficult to assess Dementia because it might not be immediately obvious.
Some common symptoms may include:
- Memory loss(especially newer, more recent event) – this can start out slowly and become more frequent over time
- Uncertainty and confusion
- Change in personality or behaviour (Anxiousness, Aggressiveness)
- Apathy and withdrawal,Depression
- Struggling to perform everyday tasks
Is there a cure for Dementia?
For most forms of dementia, there is no cure although some medications may reduce some symptoms but while there is no guarantee of prevention, there are a range of ways to potentially delay the onset of dementia. The University of Queensland recommends taking action in five areas to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
- Look after your heart by maintaining blood pressure and cholesterol levels,
- Being physically active;
- Following a healthy diet,
- Partaking in social activities and
- Mentally challenging the brain.
Put simply: Look after the Heart, Body and Mind to help reduce the risks. Of these, the mind is the most valuable and the one we will focus on here.
Can mentally challenging my brain really help with reducing symptoms of dementia?
There are a range of ways to look after your brain from staying social, to playing sport, learning a new hobby and varying your routine. One of the best ways is playing games and doing puzzles.
A review across 9 studies, totaling 11,968 patients, on the use of cognitively demanding activities such as playing games, crossword puzzles and reading, showed some interesting results. All 9 studies suggested that mental activities reduce the risk of developing Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the studies even showed a delay of 2.5 years for accelerated memory decline in patients aged between 75 and 85 years old. So, yes, mentally challenging your brain can help with reducing or delaying the onset of Dementia.
As George Bernard Shaw so eloquently stated:
“We don’t stop playing because we get old, We get old because we stop playing”
What kind of games or puzzles should I be playing?
Challenging the brain with different puzzles helps to strengthen the connection between our neurons which helps with cognitive decline and associated risks. To add to this, playing with others helps with social activities (also key in keeping the mind healthy).
Wolfpack Games have curated a list of games that help stimulate the mind:
Octagon – The benefit is that there are 100 challenges, ranging from very easy to the sublimely difficult, so it will keep challenging your thinking and suits a broad range of skills sets. Given the game contains pieces that are connected, the balls can’t roll away and are easy to pick up. A real benefit when considering the general age of potential patients is over 65.
8 piece puzzle – The challenge of this game is to piece it back together again, though it is not as easy as it sounds as each individual piece is slightly different. This keeps your mind thinking and is great as a tactile exercise which can be done over and over as it is almost impossible to remember which piece goes were. As you can hold this game in your hand or sit it on a table and the pieces are big enough to keep an eye on and easy to handle it is perfect for older players.
Double Tangram – Though traditionally a single player puzzle, our unique design means this is also a very social game to play with all ages* of your family. Having 2 sets of pieces, you race to solve any one of the 64 different challenges before your opponent does, so it will keep you on your toes. (Or just try to complete one on your own!) Laying flat on a table, the pieces are easily manoeuvrable by sliding them around if picking them up is an issue.
* Players as young as 3 or 4 can try the ‘answer’ side of the card while competing with their Nana or Popa who could do the much harder shadowed side – socially beneficial and stretching the brain of any age group!
3D X0 – This is a great game to play as it is an extension of an already beloved game – noughts and crosses (or Tic-Tac-Toe). This is also a hit for older people as it has the added benefit of helping retain fine motor skills while being socially and mentally active.
Soma Cube – this is a game for the genius level. If your mind is still sharp and you want a constant challenge then look no further – there are 50 level 5 challenges!
There are many others to choose from but the 5 listed here are by far our most engaging, and suitable for anyone looking to help delay the onset of dementia in a fun, tactile way.
Fissler, P. et al., 2018. Jigsaw Puzzling Taps Multiple Cognitive Abilities and Is a Potential Protective
Factor for Cognitive Aging. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 10, p.299.
Doyle, C., Mertz-Hack, T. & Kern, J., 2017. Do mental activities such as crossword puzzles, playing
games, and reading reduce the risk of developing dementia? Evidence-Based Practice, 20(9), pp.13–14.
Wang, B., Taylor, L. & Sun, Q., 2018. Families that play together stay together: Investigating family bonding through video games. New Media & Society, 20(11), pp.4074–4094.