October 9, 2018
As a specialist in Alzheimer's prevention, Jessica Langbaum knows that exercising her mental muscles can help keep her brain sharp.
But Langbaum, who holds a doctorate in psychiatric epidemiology, has no formal mental fitness program. She doesn't do crossword puzzles or play computer brain games.
"Just sitting down and doing Sudoku isn't probably going to be the one key thing that's going to prevent you from developing Alzheimer's disease," she says.
Instead of using a formal brain training program, she simply goes to work.
"My job is my daily cognitive training," says Langbaum, the associate director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Initiative at the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix.
And that's true of most working people. "While you're still in the work force you are getting that daily challenge of multitasking, of remembering things, of processing information," she says.
Langbaum offers that perspective as someone who has spent years studying the effects of brain training programs, and as someone who has seen Alzheimer's up close.
"My grandfather was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment when I was in graduate school getting my Ph.D.," she says. "That transitioned into full-blown Alzheimer's dementia."
So Langbaum began to ask herself a question: "How can I in my career help ensure that we aren't suffering from the disease when we reach that age?"
And she realized early on that puzzles and games weren't the answer because they tend to focus on one very narrow task. The result is like exercising just one muscle in your body, Langbaum says. That muscle will get stronger, but your overall fitness isn't going to change.