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Brain exercises may mask symptoms of dementia

November 26, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
We've all been told keeping your brain sharp will help you stave off memory loss as you age. But can it help keep Alzheimer's and dementia at bay?A new report says it may delay a person's diagnosis, but not in a positive way. There's new concern over flexing mental muscles as much as our physical ones.

A study of more than 1,100 volunteers over 65 found that while brain stimulation slows mental decline, it can also mask some of the symptoms of dementia. That's because all that activity can disguise the progression of the disease.

"In some ways, brain exercises can mask an underlying brain disorder, but in a way that's good, because we can stave off the symptoms longer and longer by helping our brains compensate for an underlying problem," said Dr. Gray Small, a psychiatrist and the director of the UCLA Center of Aging.

Giving your brain a workout can actually help sharpen it, just like going to the gym can strengthen muscles.

"We found, in our studies, when we teach people memory exercises that their brains actually become more efficient, so they can, in a way, lift more brain weight, with less energy," Small said.

He says people should realize that when it comes to brain health and staving off dementia, we all have a lot more control than we realize.

"If you look at the studies of how much genetics contributes to brain health, and how much lifestyle does, it's actually lifestyle that has a bigger impact," Small said.

These lifestyle factors include doing crossword puzzles, eating antioxidant rich food and exercising.

"Living a lifestyle that will also protect your heart, will also go a long way to protect your brain," Small said.