Jul 22, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Beginning to be forgetful? Grab the 2Ws: Webster’s and Walnuts

Oct 24, 2014 01:50 AM EDT

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As we get older, some visible and not-so-noticeable changes occur to us physically, emotionally and mentally. For the most part, emotional maturity is a positive and highly anticipated experience in "aging", while physical changes like the appearance of fine lines and dark circles around the eyes may or may not be very appealing to some. However, as time passes, changes in our mental functions may happen, and this might take a toll in our lives especially if its impacts negatively affect our work and everyday activities.

Dementia is a term pertaining to a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills which, in turn, reduces a person's ability to perform everyday activities. Some risk factors for dementia are age, genes, diseases, and vitamin deficieny, among others.

According to Alzheimer's Association, people with dementia "may have problems with short-term memory like keeping track of a purse or wallet, paying bills, planning and preparing meals, remembering appointments or traveling out of the neighborhood."

Failing to do routine tasks due to deteriorating memory could be frustrating, but researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) in Spain, and the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities (IBR) have discovered possible solutions for dementia-associated "malfunctions".

And these solutions--preventive and corrective--are just within arm's reach; for easy recall,  we may call them the 2Ws: Webster's (read: dictionary) and walnuts!

First, the USC researchers discovered that having an extensive word repertoire could prevent decline in one's cognitive functions.

The group studied the factors that help the brain in improving its thinking ability in order to compensate for cognitive impairment. They discovered that the brain uses its cognitive reserve--or the capacity to compensate for the loss of its functions-- to make up for memory loss. Their study revealed that having a wide vocabulary aids cognitive reserve.

Cristina Lojo Seoane, co-author of the study said, "We focused on level of vocabulary as it is considered an indicator of crystallized intelligence (the use of previously acquired intellectual skills). We aimed to deepen our understanding of its relation to cognitive reserve."

The group studied 326 subjects aged 50 -above; 222 are healthy individuals and 104 had mild cognitive impairment. The researchers measured their levels of vocabulary, together with educational attainment, the complexity of their jobs, and their reading habits. They also analyzed the scores they obtained in various tests, such as the vocabulary subtest of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.

The results showed that participants with mild cognitive impairment also scored low in the vocabulary test.

"This led us to the conclusion that a higher level of vocabulary, as a measure of cognitive reserve, can protect against cognitive impairment," Seoane said.

Meanwhile, the other study from IBR confirmed the wonders nuts, particularly walnuts, could give to the body.

Their research which was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease found that walnuts contain certain ingredients that prevent, reduce the risk and slow down the progression of Alzheimer's.

Using mice as subject, the study found significant improvement in learning skills, memory, reducing anxiety, and motor development in the mice that were on a walnut diet. The researchers gave the mice dietary supplementation of 6 per cent or 9 per cent walnuts, which are equivalent to one ounce and 1.5 ounces of walnuts per day.

The researchers attributed the food's high antioxidant content which may protect the brain from the "degeneration typically seen in Alzheimer's," reports from Express said.

Dr Abha Chauhan, lead of the research team, said, "These findings are very promising and help lay the groundwork for future human studies on walnuts and Alzheimer's disease - a disease for which there is no known cure. Our study adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates the protective effects of walnuts on cognitive functioning."

Dr. Chauhan explained that walnut protected the brain from the oxidative damage caused by the amyloid beta protein which are found to form in the brains of those with Alzheimer's disease. Walnuts are a significant source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid which is found to be beneficial to the brain.

The two findings have indeed presented ways to maintain, if not improve, one's cognitive functions through intellectual pursuits like reading, solving crossword puzzles, and memorizing new words in the dictionary; as well as eating walnuts and other foods high on alpha-linolenic acid like flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and tofu, among others. These two coupled with time-tested activities that promote good health and well-being such as regular physical exercise, tobacco-free lifestyle, and balanced diet are all contributors not only to a healthy mind but also to a fit and young-looking body.

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