Mental Stimulation May Cut Alzheimer's
Challenging the Brain Regularly May Help Prevent Alzheimer's Disease, Even Late in Life
WebMD News Archive
June 27, 2007 -- You've heard of physical activity. Get ready for cognitive
activity, which means challenging your brain, much like physical activity
challenges your muscles.
Regular cognitive activity may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, according
to a study published today in the journal Neurology's advance online
The researchers included Robert S. Wilson, PhD, who works in Chicago at Rush
University's Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center.
Wilson and colleagues studied 775 older Chicagoans (average age: 80) for up
to five years.
None of the elders had Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia when
the study began. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia in
older adults, but it's not a normal part of the aging process.
Upon enrolling in the study, participants got checkups and had their memory
and other mental skills tested. They also completed a survey about their
current and past cognitive activities.
"Items included activities like reading a newspaper, playing games like
chess or checkers, visiting a library, or attending a play," Wilson's team
They also noted their physical and social activities, income at age 40, and
parents' education levels.
Participants repeated the mental skills tests every year.
During the study, 90 participants developed Alzheimer's disease.
Those who got frequent cognitive activity were about 40% less likely to
develop Alzheimer's disease than those with little or no cognitive
Wilson's team didn't stop there. They reasoned that cognitive activity might
be a marker for other traits, such as higher income, more education, and social
or physical activity.
So the researchers analyzed the data again with those factors in mind. The
findings held. That is, cognitive activity appeared to benefit everyone,
regardless of other factors.
Current cognitive activity was particularly important. Past cognitive
activity wasn't enough to stave off Alzheimer's disease, the study
However, the study doesn't prove that cognitive activity prevents
Alzheimer's disease -- and it doesn't blame Alzheimer's disease on insufficient
All of the elders in Wilson's study showed some decrease in their scores in
their annual mental skills tests. Those declines were less steep for
cognitively active participants.