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Keeping Your Wits Sharp May Keep Alzheimer’s At Bay

Want to keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay? The conventional wisdom of keeping your brain engaged, such as by playing games that tax your mental energies or reading the newspaper, has been found to significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

The study found a person who used their brain in such activities in old age was 2 and a half times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than a person who didn’t in old age.

The study’s findings of the importance of mental tasks remained consistent even after consideration of past cognitive activity, lifetime socioeconomic status, and current social and physical activity.

The study, led by Robert Wilson with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, was published yesterday in the online edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“Alzheimer’s disease is among the most feared consequences of old age,” said Wilson.

“The enormous public health problems posed by the disease are expected to increase during the coming decades as the proportion of old people in the United States increases. This underscores the urgent need for strategies to prevent the disease or delay its onset.”

Wilson says the study also found frequent cognitive activity during old age, such as visiting a library or attending a play, was associated with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment, a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, and less rapid decline in cognitive function.

For the study, more than 700 people in Chicago, IL, with an average age of 80 underwent yearly cognitive testing for up to five years. Participants were part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a longitudinal study of more than 1,200 older people. Of the participants, 90 developed Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers also performed a brain autopsy on the 102 participants who died.

Researchers say the findings may be used to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Some of the earliest associations of the “use it or lose it” analogy began appearing in 2002, after the publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association of an earlier study by Wilson and others at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. They reported on a study indicating that older people who participate most frequently in cerebrally challenging activities have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

In that study there were more than 700 participants of the Religious Orders Study, a group of Catholic nuns, priests and brothers who have agreed to annual memory testing and brain donation at the time of death.

The scientists followed the subjects—all age 65 or older and dementia free at the start of the study—for an average of 4.5 years and administered annual follow-up cognitive tests.

At the study’s outset, the subjects underwent cognitive testing and filled out a questionnaire probing the amount of time they spent engaged in common pastimes involving information processing: watching TV, listening to the radio, reading, playing games or solving puzzles and going to museums.

This conclusion drew more support in 2003, with a study by Dr. Joe Verghese and others at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in collaboration with Syracuse University, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors of the study concluded that participation in leisure activities is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. They also found that among leisure activities, reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Dancing drew the most attention from the media.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Keeping Your Wits Sharp May Keep Alzheimer’s At Bay
APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Keeping Your Wits Sharp May Keep Alzheimer’s At Bay. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 17, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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