Expert's tips on best brain training to fend off dementia

Community Options Illawarra representative Kate Troy, who has helped organise a Wollongong dementia forum, using the Brainy App. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Community Options Illawarra representative Kate Troy, who has helped organise a Wollongong dementia forum, using the Brainy App. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Learning a new language or some new dance moves could help reduce your risk of dementia, according to a brain training expert who will address a Wollongong forum later this month.

Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela - part of the team that developed the Brainy App - is the keynote speaker at the Living Positively with Dementia forum at The Builders Club on July 30.

Prof Valenzuela said while completing the odd crossword or Sudoku puzzle were great, people needed to look for more challenging brain training activities as they aged.

"The three key things you can do to protect yourself from dementia are to include more mental activity, more physical activity and more social networking," he said.

"If you can find activities that combine all three things, it will help you to lower your risk of dementia and maintain a healthy brain as much as possible. For instance, studies show that learning to dance, particularly partner dancing, is very effective as it's not just a physical activity, it involves a lot of learning as you memorise moves and put them into sequences, and it also has that social aspect. Things like tai chi and yoga are also perfect in this way."

Prof Valenzuela said recent research also confirmed the benefits of learning a new language to stave off dementia.

"The study showed that learning a second language delayed the presentation of dementia by six to seven years."

Prof Valenzuela, from the Brain and Mind Research Institute at Sydney University, said the effects of such learning activities could be measured.

"It starts at a molecular, biochemical level and if you keep doing that activity over weeks and months, it ends up translating to structural changes in the brain," he said.

The Brainy App, developed for Alzheimer's Australia's dementia risk reduction program, allows users to assess their risk of developing dementia and then helps them reduce those risks.

"Based on the user's profile, the app will develop or custom build a program and will send reminders to them - whether that's to enrol in a new learning activity or to get a blood pressure check," Prof Valenzuela said. "It also includes some brain training games."

For more information on the Wollongong dementia forum, or to register, call (02) 8875 4663 or email NSW.education@alzheimers.org.au.

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