Active Mind, Body May Not Help Curb Alzheimer's
Study suggests that, for most people, this kind of lifestyle does not curb markers of disease in the brain
By Robert Preidt
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 24, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- There's plenty of evidence suggesting that people who are active socially, intellectually and physically may stave off Alzheimer's disease. However, a new study shows those efforts may only go so far to keep dementia at bay.
Exercising the mind and body may delay the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, researchers said, but in most people it does not slow underlying brain changes linked to the disease.
The study was led by Prashanthi Vemuri, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Her team focused on nearly 400 people aged 70 and older. While none of the participants had dementia, 53 had experienced slight declines in their mental abilities.
Vemuri's team divided the participants into two groups -- those with more than 14 years of education and those with less.
Each participant underwent brain scans to check for signs of Alzheimer's disease and were also asked about their mental and physical activity levels.
Overall, the participants' jobs, mental and physical activity and education in middle age appeared to have little to no effect on levels of the buildup of amyloid protein plaques in the brain -- a factor long associated with Alzheimer's disease. Physical or mental activity levels also appeared to have little impact on brain volume or the brain's sugar metabolism (energy use), the researchers said.
However, the findings were different for a minority of participants -- people with an Alzheimer's-linked gene called APOE4. About 20 percent of people carry this gene, Vemuri's team noted.
In that subset, people who had high education levels and who had continued to learn throughout their lives had less amyloid plaque, compared to those with high education levels who did not continue to challenge their mind.
The study was published online Feb. 24 in the journal Neurology.
"Recent studies have shown conflicting results about the value of physical and mental activity related to the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, and we noticed that levels of education differed in those studies," Vemuri said in a journal news release.
"When we looked specifically at the level of lifetime learning, we found that carriers of the APOE4 gene who had higher education and continued to learn through middle age had fewer amyloid deposition on imaging when compared to those who did not continue with intellectual activity in middle age," she said.