Is cognitive decline an inevitable part of ageing? A growing number of researchers now challenge long-held assumptions that skills such as processing speed, problem solving and the ability to recall facts and events get worse as we get older — and show how certain hobbies and habits can speed or slow the brain’s ageing.
Recently, David Barrie, a navigation expert, said satnav and smartphone maps may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s because regions of the brain responsible for navigation "need exercise".
Associations are helpful, but is it possible to retrain a foggy memory and recover apparently lost cognitive skills? A team of US scientists conducted a study on "cognitive retraining" and found that retraining was associated with increased scores on the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living Scale, a questionnaire that measures the ability to live independently, prepare meals, attend to personal needs and manage finances.
Recent books such as Camilla Cavendish’s Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World, describe current research and explain how to incorporate the most up-to-date advice into your life. They don’t encourage you to complete endless sudokus or play the same piano piece you’ve always played.
Instead, try some of these:
• Learn to play a new instrument.
• Take new routes to familiar places.
• Challenge yourself to maintain focus amid increased distraction.
• Make random word lists and create novel ways to remember them.
• Look for patterns in letter or number arrangements.
• Remain curious — new learning is the key to cognitive vitality.
• Remember to attend to physical health. Eat a Mediterranean-style diet, exercise every day, and prioritise sleep.
• It’s time to throw away your fears of inevitable decline. Instead, seek new challenges and new discoveries every day.