You know that eating well, exercising, and keeping strong social bonds are keys to a healthy brain, but new research reveals that stimulating your senses can also lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and boost brain health.
“That’s because all five senses have pathways in vital regions of the brain,” says neuroepidemiologist Willa Brenowitz, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. In fact, smell and hearing are especially linked to the hippocampus, the brain region that controls memory.
“Research suggests that people with smell and hearing loss experience more shrinkage of the hippocampus with age,” she says, adding that new studies are also beginning to reveal more about the role vision plays in the ability to think, remember, and make decisions.
The good news: These easy steps safeguard your vision, hearing, and sense of smell — and keep your brain young!
Boost smell with ‘smart sniffs.’
The inability to recognize four or five common scents doubles the risk of dementia in people ages 57 to 85, reveals new research. “Reduced sense of smell may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” says Brenowitz, since smell is tied to brain regions in charge of memory.
Thankfully, there’s a simple fix. In one study, folks with a decreased sense of smell who underwent “smell training” by identifying common odors daily improved their sense of smell and their ability to quickly recall words.
To hone your nose, take out a handful of spice jars, mix them up, close your eyes and see if you can ID each by its odor. Do this twice a day to bolster your nose and your brain.
Boost hearing with a TV trick.
A certain amount of hearing loss is to be expected as we get older, but the more severe the impairment, the higher the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research from Johns Hopkins University.
“Part of maintaining brain health is always digesting interesting information,” says otologist/neurotologist, Justin S. Golub, MD. “You can’t do that as well if you’re just focused on trying to pick out which words are being spoken in a conversation.”
To preserve your hearing, practice chatting with someone while the TV is on low in the background. A recent Harvard study of older adults suggests that doing so helps people learn to discern specific sounds and tune out white noise, improving hearing by 25 percent.
Boost vision with Pokémon.
Your eyes are windows to your soul, and new research shows they’re also accurate ref lections of your brain.
“Improved vision may help older patients engage with the world more fully, protecting against dementia,” says Cecilia Lee, MD, associate professor and director of clinical research in the Ophthalmology Department at the University of Washington.
Fortunately, you can sharpen your eyesight just by getting more playful. According to a study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, playing video games, such as Pokémon Go, for 30 days improves vision by helping our eyes clear out “visual clutter” and pick out subtle contrasts in shades of gray — an ability that wanes with age and is vital for night driving.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.