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Preventing neurodegenerative diseases: boosting the brain with cognitive stimulation

Published Feb 5, 2024 • By Claudia Lima

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis are chronic conditions characterized by the progressive destruction of certain neurons.
Prevention is a crucial aspect of managing these neurodegenerative diseases, and there are innovative approaches available to everyone to protect the brain, such as cognitive stimulation, which is a promising way of preventing or delaying the development of these conditions.

What are the most common neurodegenerative diseases? How can they be prevented? What is cognitive stimulation?

Find all the answers in our article!

Preventing neurodegenerative diseases: boosting the brain with cognitive stimulation

What are neurodegenerative diseases?  

Neurodegenerative diseases are health conditions that cause nerves and brain tissue to deteriorate over time. They are quite common, and their frequency increases significantly with age. In fact, due to the ageing of the population and the absence of curative treatments, the number of people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases has risen considerably in recent decades and is set to increase steadily in the years to come.

Neurodegenerative diseases include a number of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lewy body dementia, dystonia, multiple sclerosis (MS), epilepsy, stroke, Charcot's disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington's disease, brain tumors, Ménière's disease, etc.

Neurodegenerative diseases are a major cause of disability, dependency and hospitalization. They have a significant impact on the quality of life of people who suffer from them, their families and their carers.

According to health authorities, a good level of education, regular physical activity, a healthy diet and early treatment of cardiovascular risk factors can limit the onset of these conditions, and also help them to progress more slowly, with a lower risk of complications and a reduction in the cost of treatment. 

Among the treatment options available, aimed at slowing down the progression of these diseases, there are drug treatments, healthy dietary habits and cognitive stimulation.

What is cognitive stimulation?  

Cognitive stimulation is a set of techniques designed to improve the functioning of cognitive abilities, such as attention, memory, orientation, language, visuospatial skills, etc.

The aim of cognitive stimulation is to optimize the cognitive and social functioning of people affected by a neurodegenerative disease, by making the most of their preserved abilities.

In people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, depending on the type of the disease and on the way it is progressing, certain cognitive functions are impaired, and these are known as cognitive disorders, or more precisely, acquired cognitive disorders. They are due to a cerebral dysfunction.

There are two types of cognitive activities: restorative activities, which use the repetition of actions to improve cognitive dysfunction, and compensatory activities, which use intact functions to compensate for affected functions.

What is the link between preventing neurodegenerative conditions and cognitive stimulation ?  

Numerous studies have been carried out to test cognitive interventions aimed at slowing the cognitive decline associated with degenerative diseases. Cognitive stimulation is considered by some authors to be the most effective non-drug intervention.

Cognitive stimulation refers to mental activities involving thinking, problem-solving, memory and other intellectual processes. These activities can have a positive impact on: 

  • cerebral plasticity: cognitive activities encourage the growth of nerve cells, improving the brain's flexibility, 
  • reducing cognitive decline: by constantly exercising the brain, we can strengthen its ability to maintain its functions (memory, attention), 
  • preventing brain damage: by strengthening neuronal connections and activating different regions of the brain, cognitive activities reduce the harmful effects of stress, for example, predisposing to neurodegenerative diseases.

The day-to-day benefits of cognitive stimulation for people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases include: 

  • increasing independence in carrying out routine tasks, 
  • increasing self-esteem
  • encouraging social interaction and preventing people from becoming isolated, 
  • avoiding episodes of stress and/or anxiety caused by cognitive disorders, 
  • improving quality of life, as well as emotional and psychological well-being.

What cognitive activities can help prevent neurodegenerative diseases? 

Several types of activities promote cognitive stimulation and prevent neurodegenerative diseases. 

Here are a few examples:

Case studies

Repeating the same routes around your neighborhood, going to the toilet on your own, using your smartphone, etc., are some of the activities that should be repeated regularly to slow down the loss of independence in your everyday life.

Learning new things 

Engage in various learning activities:

  • reading is an excellent way to develop imagination, memory and comprehension,
  • learning a new language,
  • playing a musical instrument, etc.

Developing new skills stimulates the brain in a positive way.

Cognitive games 

Games such as crosswords or memory games stimulate memory, attention and problem-solving, and are extremely beneficial. Mobile applications and board games are available for this purpose. Some games also involve having to remember certain words or doing small deduction exercises.

There are now serious games specifically designed for medical purposes, some of which are already considered as medical devices in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as, for example, "Sea Hero Quest" for Alzheimer's disease, etc.

Social activities

Maintaining active social relationships and taking part in stimulating conversations are effective ways of maintaining cognitive function. Group activities are ideal for creating social links and stimulating not only language, but also memory, by unconsciously forcing you to record new information.

Exercise

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases. Physical activity increases blood flow to the brain and stimulates the release of beneficial chemicals. Regular physical activity also helps maintain muscle mass, flexibility, coordination and balance.

Conclusion 

Cognitive stimulation is a key factor in preventing neurodegenerative diseases

Incorporating mentally stimulating activities into our daily life, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits, will help you maintain your brain healthy and potentially reduce the risk of degenerative diseases.


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