March 6 -- Chess, jigsaw puzzles and other mentally challenging activities may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, a study published today says.
The new research, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found elderly people who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2 ½ times less likely to have the debilitating illness, which affects 4 million Americans.
The study's main author, Dr. Robert Freidland, claims people who don't exercise their gray matter stand a chance of losing brain power.
The new report questions 193 people about their participation in 26 different hobbies. The list included physical activities, like gardening and knitting, intellectual hobbies like reading, and passive ones such as television viewing.
Freidland cautioned, however, that the new data does not rule out the possibility the decreased mental activity was a result of the early stages of Alzheimer's, not a cause.
TV Watching May Even Be an Alzheimer's Risk Factor
The study found Alzheimer's patients did less of every activity except watching TV.
Television might even be a risk factor for the disease, the report concluded.
Still, it would be wrong to conclude that "TV rots your mind," said Bill Thies, vice president of Medical and Scientific Affairs for the Alzheimer's Association, who has reviewed the new research.
"I think lots of people are looking for a method to prevent Alzheimer's," Thies said. "Unfortunately it's probably not going to turn out to be that simple."
Earlier research has found that the degenerative brain disorder is slower to appear and develop among people who are in intellectually demanding professions.
The number of Americans afflicted by Alzheimer's is expected to soar to 14 million by 2050, as the general population ages.