MCI is a slight but noticeable and measurable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory and thinking skills. It can affect up to 20 per cent of the population at any one time—and half of them will progress to full-on dementia. In other words, a person with MCI is at an increased risk of developing dementia. Of course, years of drinking didn’t help there, but there are certain risk factors not in my favour such as past heavy drinking and smoking, hypertension and elevated cholesterol (albeit both well-controlled these days), and depression (well in the past now, but who knows).
I’m good on numerical ability (despite hating math at school), classification and general mental ability, and very good on visuo-spatial ability but, despite being a very good wordsmith, it comes as quite as a shock to learn that I’m not good at all when it comes to questions, games and puzzles that test verbal ability (eg ‘Find the odd one out: LEEGA / WARPSOR / RALK / LAHEW … Answer: WHALE [All the others are birds: eagle, sparrow and lark]). Hence, Jotto. (My favourite actress, Lucille Ball, excelled in Jotto and other word games such as Scrabble, so I've read. She would even play Jotto while at the wheel of her car, being able to retain in her head a whole series of 'jots', a jot being a certain number of letters that were in both the guessed word and the ‘secret word’.)
Now, as to the importance of engaging in active leisure activities to help ward off dementia, there are studies suggesting that those who have no leisure activities, or who have very little diversity in leisure activities, or who engage only in passive leisure activities (principally watching TV) are more likely to develop dementia (see, eg, Friedland R P et al, Proc Nat Acad Sci USA, 10.1073/pnas. 061002998). Additionally, it seems that leisure activities may reduce the risk of incident dementia, possibly by providing a reserve that delays the onset of clinical manifestations of the disease (see, eg, Scarmeas N et al, Neurology 2001;57(12):2236-42).
And diet? Well, dietary patterns have long been associated with decreasing cognitive decline and reducing one’s risk of dementia. In that regard, those who follow the MIND diet (high on natural plant-based foods and low on animal and high saturated fat foods) can lower their dementia risk by as much as 50 per cent. So, like many others, I've made some changes to my diet.
A leading theory as to why bilingualism can affect dementia suggests the key may be the constant suppression of one language, and . If switching languages is the reason, it could also explain why the researchers saw no additional benefits of speaking more than two languages. So, I’m trying to re-learn French, a subject in which I excelled at high school (7th in the State [New South Wales, Australia] in the HSC in 1972), but now a language I’ve virtually forgotten in the ensuing 43 years. And I'm finding it damn hard! Whereas 40 years ago I could learn, say, a dozen new French words each evening, and remember them all a week later (and longer), it's not so today. I've forgotten most of the words by next morning. It's all very depressing, especially in light of something I've read, namely, that picking up a new language's vocabulary is supposedly much easier for adults than learning the rules that govern its grammar or syntax. (As for the latter, egad!) Additionally, it is said that older learners of another language are less likely to have good pronunciation or accent.
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