Could Computer Use Stave Off Dementia?

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and it’s estimated that more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. Although there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, a new study suggests computer use may be helpful in preventing the disease.

Keeping brains healthy is one of the goals of the Texas Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders program at Texas Health Dallas, and its director, Diana Kerwin, a geriatrician and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas.

The practice cares for patients from the initial phases of cognitive impairment and testing, through to diagnosis and clinical treatment involving medication and management of the body, mind and spirit. And the recent study from JAMA Neurology has given Dr. Kerwin and her team a new tool to add to their arsenal.

“We already knew that if you were active, and that’s both physically and mentally active, that was a good sign of reducing your own risk,” said Kerwin.  “What this study did was it quantified it a little bit more, and it also broke it down into which activities seem to be a little bit better than others. It seems like computer use is really good, and so is playing games.”

Kerwin says doing things with your opposite hand—such as brushing your teeth—memorizing poems or verses, and even the list of presidents’ names and dates they held office, can all be stimulating enough to keep the brain healthy.

“Puzzles of all kinds can keep the neurons firing,” she says. “Learning a novel activity (words from another language, playing a musical instrument, taking dance lessons) and meeting new people challenges us and can keep our mind healthy.”

According to the Nielsen media ratings company, the average American watches more than five hours of live television a day. That number jumps to more than seven hours once we pass 65. But Kerwin says watching TV is a passive activity that doesn’t stimulate the brain enough. If you can’t break ties with your TV, she suggests supplementing your screen time with something that requires more active involvement, like playing Sudoku, knitting, coloring in adult coloring books, or light exercise between commercials.

The study only researched the effects of computer use and brain-stimulating activities on “cognitively normal” participants, or people with a relatively normal risk factor for developing dementia, but Kerwin says even if the disease runs in your family, a little prevention can go a long way.

“You can have the genetic predisposition in your family for dementia or Alzheimer’s but it isn’t a guarantee you will develop the disease,” she says. “There are many lifestyle variables involved, such as diet, exercise and stress that play a large role in the development of disease.

“The more you expand and stretch your thinking, the healthier your brain will be. The important element is not to be perfect, but to explore. The brain flourishes with new experiences.”

To learn more about the Texas Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders program, please visit TexasAlzheimersAndMemoryDisorders.com.

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