How To Enhance Your Mental Health

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The number of people with Alzheimer’s over the age of 65 will increase by 30 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Alzheimer Association’s 2008 facts and figures report. With statistics like that, baby boomers and adults alike have incentive to take charge of their health and seek out new ways of maintaining not only their physical health, but their mental health too.

Alzheimer’s prevalence in the United States is on the rise, but there are also more organizations and programs created to help people reduce the risk of developing the disease. One of the more frequently researched concepts is the use of brain-stimulating activities to help improve cognitive skills, which has shown to reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

One recent study was conducted by several scientists and physicians in Des Moines, Iowa who developed a Brain Wellness Program for participants diagnosed with early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the six-month study required them to have consistent social interaction, physical exercise, a low-fat diet with anti-oxidant supplements, stress management, and cognitive training games with Happy Neuron Online Brain Games three times a week.

Happy Neuron was founded in 2000 to provide scientifically researched and entertaining ways to exercise the brain. The games, each of which are designed to address one of five specific cognitive functions – attention, language, memory, visual and spatial skills, and executive function – showed to be an integral part of the study.

Geriatrician Robert Bender, MD of the Johnny Orr Memory Center led the research team. “We feel strongly that this pilot study demonstrates the plasticity of the human brain and that mental exercise programs like Happy Neuron have enormous potential to raise the probabilities of remaining sharp as we age,” he said.

Pre- and post-PET scans and neuropsychological examinations showed that study participants who followed the program’s instructions showed significant improvement in their cognitive skills. One participant’s scans and examinations showed considerable recovery of brain activity, which was reiterated by reports of improvement from the participant and his family.

“Our team is really excited by the results of this study. Alzheimer’s is one of the most heart-breaking diseases imaginable, not just for those who suffer from it, but for their families,” said Dr. Bender. “This study strongly suggests that for many people brain wellness strategies, including regular, consistent, scientifically based mental workouts, physical exercise, and good diet and nutrition can delay the onset of symptoms and mitigate their impact over time.”

Though Happy Neuron products got their start only eight years ago, the company has brought together scientists, neurologists and computer scientists specializing in human computer interaction to help create the games that are now available in the United States, France, Germany, the UK, and Japan. The games (which can be accessed at www.happy-neuron.com.com) aim to train and exercise the brain in a cross-functional way, which can also help the brain create new neurons.

Laura Fay, Chief Operating Officer at Happy Neuron, said, “scientific communities are really learning that you can create new neural pathways, that we can learn, that we can regenerate previously assumed deficiencies through very focused efforts to stimulate the brain.”

There is no specific drug or treatment available to delay or stop brain cell deterioration in Alzheimer’s disease, but according to the Alzheimer’s Association study, using the available treatment options, as well as supportive services like counseling, activity and support groups, and adult day programs can help improve the quality of life for people diagnosed with the disease and their caregivers.

The study also reports that scientists have found prevention to be one of the most exciting developments in Alzheimer’s and dementia research. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and consistent brain activity are important for prevention and can help people avoid dementia and maintain their cognitive health.

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