Former President Ronald Reagan was a dynamic human with accomplishments as actor, father, governor of California and President of the United States. However, this great man spent the last 10 years of his life requiring continuous nursing care for his Alzheimer’s disease, finally dying at the age of 93. There is nothing pretty about Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Of those, 5.3 million are 65 years or older while 200,000 are below 65. The association further says that one person gets the disease every 66 seconds and nearly half a million annually.
The association also observes that it takes 15.9 million family members and friends, a combined 18.2 billion hours, and costs $230.1 billion to take care of people with Alzheimer’s annually.
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
While the exact cause of the disease is not well understood, it is known that AD affects the memory holding part of the brain. This makes it difficult for a patient to access or apply the brain to hitherto easy activities including getting around the house and eating.
It is also known that some activities can help keep the memory more active for longer, and thereby help to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Such activities usually challenge the mind to come up with new solutions through creative thinking.
How to use your mind to prevent Alzheimer’s disease
Creative thinking is important in solving daily problems. However, the parallel mental processing involved in creative thinking becomes critical for survival later in life. It is critical because the aging brain loses mental connections as many brain cells die.
Studies suggest that brains of people, who normally use multiple approaches to solving problems, develop multiple mental paths such that even as some of these paths disappear due to cell death, other paths remain. Such individuals are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease compared to individuals who always handle their problems in similar ways.
It follows that in order to keep your memory and brain in good form for longer; you need to follow a lifestyle that includes creative thinking and decision making. Some activities have been identified as being beneficial in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. And knowing how debilitating AD can be, it is important to know what you can do to reduce your chances of getting it.
Activities that involve creative thinking include:
- Ballroom dancing
- Crossword puzzles
- Learning a foreign language
- Small detail crafts such as needlework, knitting and sewing
- Cooking classes and practice
- Learning a new skill
These activities involve the use of intelligence and creative thinking to make instant decisions. Studies show that activities that involve many neural paths activate the development of new paths. It is instructive that taking a difficult class than an easy one will be more beneficial in the long term. This is different from activities which involve repetitions of similar actions and is the reason why some forms of dancing are more helpful in the fight against dementia.
How Dancing Can Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
It doesn’t matter that you won’t become a professional dancer; ballroom dancing can be your savior from the debilitating effects that come with Alzheimer’s disease.
Dancing involves different brain functions at the same time:
- Kinesthetic – learning by doing
- Physical touching of your dance partner
Each of these functions is handled differently by the brain which helps develop different neural paths.
Which is the best type of dance for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease
While several types of dance may have some benefit, studies have shown that ballroom dancing is probably the most effective in the prevention of AD. The success of this type of dance is dependent on the cooperation of the two partners in leading, following and improvising dancing steps. This cooperation involves continuous and timely decision making, which stimulates the development of new neural paths.
A 2008 study by Columbia University neuroscientists found that dancers who practice freestyle dancing such as waltz, tango, foxtrot, Latin and swing developed higher resistance to dementia.
How does dancing prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Tests conducted during the study indicate that while music has a stimulating effect on the brain’s reward centers, dancing stimulates sensory and motion centers of the brain.
Studies have also identified regions of the brain which are involved in the learning and performance of dance. These include the following:
- Motor cortex which is responsible for planning, execution and control of voluntary movement
- Somatosensory cortex whose responsibility includes motor control and coordination of eyes and hands
- Basal ganglia which works together with other parts of the brain to coordinate movement
- Cerebellum which integrates brain and spinal cord inputs to create and actualize detailed, complex movements
In addition, the combination of mental and physical activities has many benefits including improved memory and stronger neuronal-connections.
The studies also found that dancers benefit more if they interchange the lead and following roles. Dancing also helps the dancers in their cooperation in other areas of their lives.
How dancing compares with other activities in preventing Alzheimer’s
Another study was conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on the premise of continuous use of the brain for continued mental health and specifically prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers concluded that the “use it or lose it” saying is applicable to brain functions. The study, which involved ballroom dancing among other activities, found that taking part in some activities reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s by the following percentages:
- Ballroom dancing – 76%
- Crossword puzzles – 47%
- Reading – 35%
- Cycling, swimming, golf – 0%
How much ballroom dancing prevents Alzheimer’s?
The study found that seniors who took part in regular dancing developed more resistance to dementia. The study made another interesting finding: seniors who changed partners more often had higher resistance to Alzheimer’s than those who didn’t change partners. This is probably because they had to learn to adjust to the new styles of their new partners.
Similar results were found for doing crossword puzzles. The study found that doing crossword puzzles at least four times a week reduces the risk of dementia.
Does dancing help prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Different research studies have found that ballroom dancing helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But to get more benefit, there is need to start indulging in the activity as early as possible. You should also remember that you need to do it regularly. Dancing or doing crossword puzzles regularly helps to develop more neural paths in your brain. And similar to making an investment earlier in life, you these neural paths will come in handy later in life.
In a future newsletter we will discuss how lifestyle, nutrition, detoxification, hormone modulation, and exercise were combined in a program to reverse Alzheimer’s disease in 10 refractory patients involved in a UCLA trial and published in peer reviewed literature.