As of this moment, there is no research supporting any preventive measures a person can take to ward off PD-related cognitive changes. That does not mean that there is nothing out there, only that we don’t have data to support any specific measures.
I am not a big fan of doing nothing, however. Based on my knowledge of the current state of the neuropsychology of Parkinson’s, there are a number of things I would do if I were faced with the uncertainty about my future cognitive status. There are no guarantees these idea will work but experience tells me there is absolutely no way they can hurt, either. In fact, much of the cognitive rehabilitation work I do with folks who have PD builds upon identifying areas of weakness and coming up with compensatory strategies.
Cognition can be divided into a number of functional domains, each of which presents with specific challenges. Although I am speculating, good cognitive health would seem to be optimized if one exercises each of them periodically, much as one focuses on different muscle groups in a comprehensive strength-building program. For some of my future blogs, I will be looking at different cognitive “tune-ups.”
I am starting with a vital functional domain many people are somewhat unfamiliar with. Both the aging process and PD bring a change in finding words and verbal fluency, making for occasional “tip of the tongue” experiences. We sometimes find ourselves trying to locate a word in the midst of our sentences, breaking up the flow of what we say. The more we focus on trying to find the word we want, the more elusive it can become.
One of the most obvious ways to keep up verbal skills is by reading every day. Not everyone is a fan of recreationally reading books but magazines, newspapers, and websites count, too. Almost anybody can find something interesting to read during the course of a day. Reading challenges the mind with new ideas, opens us to new vocabulary, and engages us in active processing of information, outcomes that help us find words better later in life. What we want to avoid, as best as possible, is feeding the mind a steady diet of television. TV is not bad per se but many folks are more inclined to sit down and let the set guide our attention by the content presented to us. Because we are not necessarily choosing content we can miss out on the active processing that is the critical piece here. I personally watch television but do try to limit my hours in front of the set.
Word games are a good way to help a person concerned about future word-finding challenges. The most obvious and simple example is the daily crossword puzzle in your newspaper. For those of you who are not fans of crosswords there are many other games that draw upon word-finding skills, games like Scrabble, Pictionary, Hangman and Boggle. The advent of smartphones and tablets links us with electronic versions of these and a host of other really challenging word games, allowing us to choose whether we play by ourselves or others, any time of the day or night. However, I don’t think anything beats friends and family playing any game, including card games, as conversation actively builds verbal retrieval skills. In fact, the conversation may be one of the most important components for building cognitive resilience.
Keeping with the theme of verbal interaction, writing letters (even ones you have no intention of sending) is a good way to draw on the fund of words we all possess. Emails, Tweets, and text messaging