While being aware of cognitive activity is a smart idea in general, a new study indicates that the ability to read, write letters, and play card games or puzzles later in life could delay the onset Alzheimer’s dementia by up to five years. The research was published in the online issue of Neurology.
Robert S. Wilson of Rush University Medical Center, Chicago said, “The good news is that it’s never too late to start doing the kinds of inexpensive, accessible activities we looked at in our study. Our findings suggest it may be beneficial to start doing these things, even in your 80s, to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.”
The study involved 1,978 people who were 80 years old and did not have any dementia at the time of the study. They were followed for an average seven years. Participants underwent annual examinations to determine whether they had dementia.
People rated seven activities of cognitive activity on a five point scale when the study started. The questions asked: “During the last year, how many times did you read books?” “During the last year, how many times did you play games such as checkers, board or puzzle games?”
Participants also answered questions regarding cognitive activity in childhood and adulthood as well as middle age.
Researchers then averaged all responses. One score means that it was only once a year, while five signifies that it is almost every day. The average score for the group with high cognitive activities was 4.0. This meant that people were engaged in activities many times per week. It was lower than the average score of low cognitive activity of 2.1.
457 people were diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s dementia in the following period. They were an average of 89 years old. At 94 years old, dementia was most common in those who had the highest levels cognitive activity. Five years later, the average person with the least cognitive activity had developed dementia. When researchers took into account other factors, such as education and gender, the results were similar.
Research also examined brains from 695 people who died during this study in order to test the hypothesis that low cognitive activity might be an early sign for dementia. Brain tissue was examined to determine if there were any Alzheimer’s markers, such as amyloid or tau protein deposits. Researchers found no correlation between cognitive activity and markers for Alzheimer’s disease.
Wilson said, “Our study shows that people who engage in more cognitively stimulating activities may be delaying the age at which they develop dementia. It is important to note, after we accounted for late life level of cognitive activity, neither education nor early life cognitive activity were associated with the age at which a person developed Alzheimer’s dementia. Our research suggests that the link between cognitive activity and the age at which a person developed dementia is mainly driven by the activities you do later in life.”
One limitation to the study is its focus on white people with high education. It will take further research to see if the findings can be applied to the general populace.
Source: American Academy of Neurology