http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...print/asection

Lifestyle May Be Key to Slowing Brain's Aging
Scientists Test Simple Ways to Keep One's Wits
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 14, 2005; Page A01

Like many Americans sliding into middle age, Kimberly McClain started worrying that her memory was beginning to slip.

"It was little things. I couldn't remember what I had for dinner the night before. I had to check to make sure I'd paid the insurance that month. I'd walk into a room and realize I had no idea why I was there," said the Los Angeles marriage counselor, who is 44.

So McClain started a program designed to help -- a detailed regimen that includes daily memory exercises.

"I'm much clearer now," McClain said. "I have no problem finding my keys. I can tell you what I had for dinner last night. I'm not walking into a room thinking, 'Why did I come in here?' "

McClain is among the increasing number of Americans who are performing mental calisthenics, taking Italian classes, deciphering crossword puzzles and hunting for other ways to try to keep their minds from fading.

A large body of evidence indicates that people who are mentally active throughout their lives are significantly less likely to suffer senility, and a handful of studies have found that mental exercises can boost brain function. Elderly people who go through training to sharpen their wits, for example, score much better on thinking tests for years afterward. The minds of younger people who drill their memories seem to work more efficiently.

But it remains far from clear exactly which of the myriad use-it-or-lose-it methods promoted by researchers, self-help books and health groups protect the brain in the long term, and actually reduce the risk for dementia. So scientists, increasingly employing high-tech brain scans, have launched an incipient wave of research to determine what works and why.