Brain exercises may slow cognitive decline initially, but speed up dementia later

Sep 01, 2010

New research shows that mentally stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles, reading and listening to the radio may, at first, slow the decline of thinking skills but speed up dementia later in old age. The research is published in the September 1, 2010, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"Our results suggest that the benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline may come at the cost of more rapid progression later on, but the question is why does this happen?" said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

According to Wilson, mentally stimulating activities may somehow enhance the brain's ability to function relatively normally despite the buildup of lesions in the associated with dementia. However, once they are diagnosed with dementia, people who have a more mentally active lifestyle are likely to have more brain changes related to dementia compared to those without a lot of mental activity. As a result, those with more mentally active lifestyles may experience a faster rate of decline once dementia begins.

Wilson noted that 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," he said.

For the study, researchers evaluated the mental activities of 1,157 people age 65 or older who did not have dementia at the start of the nearly 12-year study. People answered questions about how often they participated in mental activities such as listening to the radio, watching television, reading, playing games and going to a museum; for this five-point cognitive activity scale, the more points scored, the more often people participated in mentally stimulating exercises.

During the next six years, the study found that the rate of in people without was reduced by 52 percent for each point on the cognitive activity scale. For people with Alzheimer's disease, the average rate of decline per year increased by 42 percent for each point on the cognitive activity scale.

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User comments : 7

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Musashi
Sep 01, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
mlange
5 / 5 (2) Sep 01, 2010
This actually seems pretty logical. The sharper you are the farther you have to fall.
DonR
5 / 5 (3) Sep 01, 2010
And kids, the moral of the story is; live your life being as big-a-vegetable as you can, so on the chance that Dementia strikes, you'll be able to live a few years longer.

I don't care if it's true or not, I'm not sacrificing mental stimulation in my 60 good years to live an extra few at decreased capacity.
Bob_Kob
5 / 5 (1) Sep 02, 2010
Well its been said that alcohol prevents dementia. So i guess the only way is to drink yourself stupid every day...
gmurphy
not rated yet Sep 02, 2010
The article states that for people with *Alzheimer's*, the average rate of decline increased for each point on the cognitive activity scale.

The title of the article is misleading. It seems to suggest that mental activity in old age is unambiguously correlated with accelerated mental decline later on.
jjoensuu
not rated yet Sep 02, 2010
It looks like the title was chosen by someone with some-sort-of-a-cognitive-impairment.

According to the last paragraph in the article, the decline was noticed only in patients with Alzheimer's. It also looks like, from the study, that the decline is faster for persons who are more active WHILE THEY HAVE Alzheimer's.

But for non-Alzheimer's persons the decline is slower for those who are mentally active (according to the last paragraph).
Sancho
not rated yet Sep 02, 2010
Let's try this study again only this time don't TELL the people they been diagnosed with dementia. People may incorporate the diagnosis into their thinking, this skewing the results.
baudrunner
not rated yet Sep 02, 2010
I don't consider that vegetating beside a radio or in front of the boob tube to be any sort of mental exercise. Do crosswords, study a programming language, but any form of wasting a brain is conducive to cognitive decline, particularly in old age.