When people are mentally active, there is more blood flow and neuronal activity in their brain. Different parts of the brain are activated by different types of mental activity.
For example, someone using their memory will have more activity in their temporal lobes, whereas someone working out a problem or planning a meal will have more activity in their frontal lobes.
When people with dementia exercise their brains (e.g. by learning new things) they grow new brain cells (neurons) and brain connections.
You exercise different parts of your brain when you:
- Play different types of thinking games (e.g. crosswords, visual puzzles like a find-a-word or mazes, logic puzzles like sudoku)
- Try online programs like Neuronation, BrainHQ, Happy Neuron
- Socialise and talk to different people.
To exercise your whole brain you need to do a variety of mental activities. If you just do crosswords, you’re only improving the parts of your brain you need for crosswords.
Some therapies for dementia are designed to get people with dementia to practise different types of thinking.
See the page 3.4 Therapies to help memory and thinking about cognitive stimulation therapy and brain training for information on their benefits.
Use it or lose it!
With dementia, you might find that you have fewer opportunities to be mentally active. You might be staying home more, or have stopped doing some things (e.g. reading books) because they are too difficult or not enjoyable anymore.
Do activities that require mental effort, this means that you need to concentrate to do the activity. It doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ the activity might seem. If you’re watching a movie and drift off, then you’re not being mentally active. If you’re an expert knitter and can knit without concentrating, then you’re not being mentally active.
Here are things other people with dementia do as part of being mentally active:
- Volunteer. Help out at a community event, or with a local group.
- Learn something new such as a craft, technological skills, or learning some new facts.
- Do something creative. Play music, sing, dance, or draw.
- Play games and puzzles such as card games, board games, video games, word games, or jigsaws.
- Care for others. Put effort into planning something nice for someone else.
Be mentally active
Do at least one thing every day that challenges your thinking.