Mental Activity May Reduce Alzheimer?s Risk

ByABC News
February 12, 2002, 12:15 PM

Feb. 13 -- Could reading the newspaper every morning help ward off Alzheimer's disease? A new study finds that staying intellectually active during old age could decrease the likelihood of later developing the disease.

The study, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, assessed the frequency of participation in intellectually stimulating activities, such as reading the newspaper, doing puzzles or visiting museums, in 724 participants with no signs of dementia to determine who was at greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

The subjects were nuns, priests and brothers aged 65 and older who participated in the Religious Orders Study and were followed for and average of four and a half years.

Subjects who reported the most frequent participation in intellectually stimulating activities were 47 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or AD than those with the lowest participation. asked Alzheimer's disease experts to weigh in on the study and how it holds up to the familiar adage: Use it or lose it.

"Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia in older persons, and few modifiable risk factors have been identified. Participation in cognitively stimulating activities (e.g., reading) has long been thought to reduce the likelihood that one will get Alzheimer's disease. However, there is actually very little data on this topic.

Thus, our findings provide the most direct evidence to date that participation in cognitive activities reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Not only do persons with more frequent cognitive activity have a higher level of cognitive ability than those who are less cognitively active, but they also experience less loss of cognitive abilities over time, particularly in the kinds of skills involved in information processing (like speed of problem solving) which are thought to be important for thinking and memory as we age.

Further research is needed to understand how cognitive activity and related variables such as education protects one from getting Alzheimer's disease. However, our results do suggest that staying intellectually active in old age may help to reduce the likelihood that one will get Alzheimer's disease."-