You have likely heard the advice encouraging you to keep your brain active by doing crossword puzzles, going to museums, learning new languages, etc. to help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. However, even a person who is extremely mentally active throughout his or her life can still develop dementia. A new study by researchers at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center may shed some light on this dilemma.
The study found that mentally stimulating activities may, at first, slow cognitive decline. However, once patients are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, those who had a more mentally active lifestyle experienced a faster rate of decline than those who were less mentally active.
According to lead author, neuropsychologist Robert S. Wilson, PhD, mentally stimulating activities may somehow enhance the brain’s ability to function relatively normal despite the buildup of lesions in the brain associated with dementia. However, the benefits from brain exercises may be of no help after the pathologic burden exceeds some threshold.
“So we think by the time that cognitively active people begin to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, they actually have more pathology in their brains than do affected people who were less cognitively active. As a result, they decline faster. That is, the benefit of delaying the initial appearance of symptoms comes at the cost of more rapid dementia progression,” said Wilson.
Wilson advice hasn’t changed. He still urges you to keep your brain active.
“Mental activities compress the time period that a person spends with dementia, delaying its start and then speeding up its progress. This reduces the overall amount of time that a person may suffer from dementia. And that’s a good thing,” he said.
The study is published in the September 1 online issue of the journal Neurology.
Read the news release.
Watch a video about the study.