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4.7 Be mentally active

People with dementia can grow new brain cells and connections between brain cells

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 connections between brain cells. 

When you play different types of thinking games (e.g., crosswords, visual puzzles like a find-a-word or mazes, logic puzzles like sudoku) you exercise different parts of your brain. 

When you socialize and talk to different people you exercise other parts of your brain. To exercise your whole brain, you need to do many different types of mental activities. For example, if you just do crosswords, you’re only improving the parts of your brain that are needed for crosswords. 

Some therapies are designed to help people with dementia practice different types of thinkingSee the article: Therapies to help memory and thinking about cognitive stimulation therapy and brain training to learn about their benefits and how to access these therapies.

Use it or lose it!

You might find that you have fewer opportunities to be mentally active, especially if you are staying home more often or have stopped doing some things (e.g., reading books) because they are difficult or no longer enjoyable. 

It is important that you continue to do activities that require mental effort, or concentration. It doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ or ‘easy’ the activity might seem. If you’re watching a movie and drift off, this isn’t being mentally active. If you’re an expert knitter and can knit without concentrating, then that’s not being mentally active either.  

To be more mentally active, people with dementia recommend the following: 

  • Volunteer – help out at a community event, or with a local group. 
  • Learn something new – this could be a craft, technological skills, or learning new facts. 
  • Do something creative – play music, sing, dance, draw. 
  • Play games and puzzles – card games, board games, video games, word games, 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.