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Mental Exercise Wards off Dementia (December 22, 2004)

The best-selling Drills for Adults to Train Their Brains (Kumon Publishing Co., Ltd.)
Recently, an increasing number of local governments and private-sector organizations have taken measures to encourage mental exercise as a means of preventing the onset of dementia. The activities range from mathematical drills to the use of personal computers to recalling old memories, and some local governments are conducting studies to verify their effectiveness. Along with fractures and strokes, dementia is one of the leading reasons for people to need nursing care. The number of elderly Japanese suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia is expected to grow from the present level of 1.5 million to a total of 2.5 million by 2015. Recognizing the need to take urgent action, local governments are putting their efforts into activities designed to prevent these disorders in seniors.

Mathematics, Computers, and Memories
Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward began a program for seniors called the "Active Brain Wellness Classroom" in July. The purpose of this once-a-week course is to have people aged 70 and over practice reading, writing, and simple calculations under the tutelage of instructors. While 30 participants were sought, nearly 80 applied, and slots had to be awarded by drawing lots. The contents of the course are based on the research of Kawashima Ryuta, a professor of neuroscience at Tohoku University. Participants conduct simple mathematical calculations and read aloud passages from novels - activities that stimulate their frontal cortex and can prevent dementia.

Professor Kawashima has conducted research at such places as a special-care nursing home in Fukuoka Prefecture. His studies show that elderly people suffering from dementia who stick with a program of simple math and reading passages aloud show improved communicative abilities and increased levels of independence with regard to such activities as going to the toilet. This is known as Learning Therapy. (Learning Therapy is a registered trademark of Professor Kawashima Ryuta and the Kumon Institute of Education.) The results of his work spread by word of mouth and through mentions in magazine articles, and when the two volumes of his book No o Kitaeru Otona no Doriru (Drills for Adults to Train Their Brains), published by Kumon Publishing Co., Ltd., went on sale at the end of 2003 (one volume deals with mathematical drills, while the other is focused on reading aloud), they became bestsellers, registering combined sales of more than 2 million copies. These books are for healthy middle-aged and elderly people to train their brains.

(Kumon Publishing Co., Ltd.)

A citizens' group in Tokyo's Toshima Ward, meanwhile, is offering over 10 different courses that are said to be effective in keeping the brain sharp, including classes on computers, gardening, and cooking. These courses appeal to the elderly by helping them to prevent the onset of dementia while doing something they enjoy. Most of the over 100 participants are seniors, and the cost of the activities is covered with membership fees and assistance from the ward office. Participants who took part in the "Dementia-Prevention Model Classroom" begun by Toshima Ward and the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology in 2000 are continuing their activities, this time as instructors.

Aichi Prefecture's Anjo City, meanwhile, began a "Fond Memory Recall Classroom" in August. The goal is to have participants undergo mental stimulation by recalling long-ago memories of school, enjoyable experiences, and household chores. The city has seen an increase of more than 1,000 people needing special nursing care over the past four years, so the hope is that the program will play a role in delaying even slightly the onset of dementia in residents.

Demonstrating Results
This year Tokyo's Musashino City began a major six-year effort to determine the efficacy of dementia prevention. The goal is to visit and interview all 10,000 of the city's residents in their seventies and make a record of their health and lifestyle practices. Of those surveyed, several hundred will be asked to participate in a dementia-prevention group, which will be compared with a control group composed of elderly who do not take part in such activities. The purpose is to compare the effectiveness of dementia prevention by comparing the rates of occurrence within the two groups. An estimate will be made of the possible savings in nursing care. Using data from the model case in Toshima Ward, Musashino officials estimate that if the onset of dementia is delayed by two years, a reduction in medical and nursing expenses of ¥5 million ($45,454 at ¥110 to the dollar) per person can be expected.

Last year Ehime Prefecture's Shikoku Chuo City conducted tests of brain function and oral surveys regarding lifestyles involving more than 600 local elderly. Based on the results of the survey, the city implemented a dementia-prevention program in October and plans to demonstrate the efficacy of this effort. Additionally, the "Active Brain Wellness Classroom" in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward conducted testing in October, and the results showed that the course was effective, with five out of seven people with mild cognitive impairment achieving normal cognitive function in three months.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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