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Slowing Alzheimer's Progress

How to Slow the Progression of Alzheimer's Disease

By , Caring.com contributing editor
94% helpful
senior woman at the game table

Quick summary

The memory loss and other cognitive changes characteristic of Alzheimer's disease and most other forms of dementia can't be reversed. But there are some proven ways to delay further decline, at least over the short term.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project is a large ongoing longitudinal study looking at common chronic conditions of aging with an emphasis on decline in cognitive and motor function and risk of Alzheimer's. A continuously updated list of scholarly publications featuring research conducted by study investigators can be found on the Rush University Medical Center website.

Mental Activity

A growing body of research indicates that stimulating the brain has the power to slow the progress of Alzheimer's, particularly in the early stages. More-frequent cognitive activity across the life span is linked to slower cognitive decline later in life, according to the Rush Memory and Aging Project.

What you can do:

Encourage the person in your care to participate in activities she finds pleasurable, especially those that engage the mind: reading, writing, playing the piano, working crosswords or puzzle books, playing games such as chess, or even learning a language. Present her with fresh materials or plenty of opportunities.

Local senior centers and adult daycare programs are more than just a way to "pass the time." They excel at providing stimulating activities, including group storytelling, music, art, and games.

Some research suggests that activities are especially protective when they involve interacting with others. Healthy people who are socially active tend to have fewer memory problems than those who are more reclusive.

Arrange for help around the home, if possible, but avoid relieving her of all her customary responsibilities. Participating in daily chores can be a form of mental workout, too.

The catch with mental stimulation:

It's important that someone with dementia find the activity pleasurable. If she finds studying Spanish or learning to use a computer frustrating because of existing cognitive declines, don't push it.

Also avoid formal mental "exercises" or memory drills. They may stress her, causing symptoms to worsen.

Too much social activity can also be stressful. Outings are best when low-key (small dinners as opposed to, say, big parties) and when they last under two hours.