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Computer Use, Exercise May Save Memory

Study Shows Mental and Physical Exercise May Help Protect Against Memory Loss

Mental Skills: Use Them or Lose Them

A second study presented at the meeting suggests that when it comes to mental skills, use them or lose them.

The researchers looked at cognitive reserve -- "the extra capacity that you have to accomplish tasks mentally," says Bruce Reed, MD, professor of neurology at the University of California at Davis.

"We all have some reserves, some have more than others," he tells WebMD. "They protect us when we get disease or injury."

In older people, studies have shown that the amount of brain pathology at autopsy, such as abnormal clusters of brain cells called plaques and tangles, is a good measure of mental reserve, Reed says.

The study involved about 700 elderly people who had undergone autopsies. The researchers found that the more mind-building exercises such as reading books and playing games that participants did throughout life, the greater their cognitive reserves at death.

Similarly, people with more education had greater cognitive reserve at death, the study shows.

When the researchers looked further, they found that the effect of cognitive activities was more important than education.

"If you have only a high school education and do a lot of cognitive actives throughout life, you'll have greater cognitive reserves. If you have a college education and don’t do anything with it, that predicts lower reserves and less protection against dementia and other injury," Reed tells WebMD.

"This is fascinating work that suggests that it is the cognitively stimulating activities that enhance brain reserve," says David Knopman, MD, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic.

"The researchers have made a sophisticated attempt at addressing this question, [using] their expertise in mathematical modeling. This approach may be the best we can do for understanding this problem [as there is no] experiment to directly answer the question," Knopman tells WebMD.

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