Keeping the mind active may slow the development of brain tangles that are associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists from UC Irvine believe that learning can delay the onset of the neurodegenerative disease.

In a study with genetically modified mice, short but repeated learning sessions slowed the process known for causing the protein beta amyloid to clump in the brain and form plaques. Plaques are believed to disrupt communication between cells and lead to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Learning also was found to slow the buildup of hyperphosphorylated-tau, a protein in the brain that can lead to the development of tangles, the other signature lesion of the disease.

‘Scientists say these findings have large implications for the understanding and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, as it is already known that highly educated individuals are less likely to develop the disease than people with less education.

“This study shows learning can delay the progression of Alzheimer’s neuropathology in mice genetically engineered to develop this insidious disorder, and learning also delays the cognitive decline,” said Frank LaFerla, professor of neurobiology and behavior and co-author of the study.

“These remarkable findings suggest stimulating the mind with activities such as reading books or completing crossword puzzles may help delay and/or prevent Alzheimer’s disease in senior citizens.”

The study appears in the Jan. 24 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Researchers were surprised that even mild learning provided a significant reduction of early stage Alzheimer’s disease pathology and cognitive decline. Current plans are to investigate if more frequent and vigorous learning will have bigger and longer benefits to Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: University of California – Irvine