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Brain Exercises May Slow Cognitive Decline Initially, But Speed Up Dementia Later

Posted Sep 03 2010 10:07am
...at the end of the day, you're spending a lesser proportion of your lifespan in a cognitively dependent, demented state, which I think is what we're all after...
By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The media jumped all over a newly released research study that was conducted by Robert S. Wilson, PhD, neuropsychologist, Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center.

Somehow, reporters concluded that brain exercise is a bad thing because while brain exercises can slow decline in thinking skills, they might speed up dementia later in life. In other words, if you are predisposed to Alzheimer's disease.

Please pay close attention to this quote from Dr. Wilson.
"We think what a cognitively active lifestyle does is help delay the initial appearance of cognitive impairment in old age and allows a person to have a longer period of cognitive vitality and cognitive independence.

"Then, if the person lives long enough and the underlying disease is progressing nonetheless, when dementia does become clinically manifest, we think that this sort of lifestyle is associated with a slightly less protracted course of the disease," he added. "So that at the end of the day, you're spending a lesser proportion of your lifespan in a cognitively dependent, demented state, which I think is what we're all after."

Key -- a cognitively active lifestyle helps delay the initial appearance of cognitive impairment in old age and allows a person to have a longer period of cognitive vitality and cognitive independence.

Note -- you spend a smaller proportion of you life in a demented state.

Also note, the studies 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.

Bottom line, it appears that mental activities like crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, painting, and searching the Internet are beneficial to your brain. And, they might delay the onset of Alzheimer's dementia.

It seems to me based on experience with my mother as an Alzheimer's caregiver, and conversations with Alzheimer's caregivers all over the world that this is good, not bad news.

Here is the information released by the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago.


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 dementia progression later on, but the question is why does this happen?” said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, neuropsychologist, Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center.

According to Wilson, mentally stimulating activities may somehow enhance the brain’s ability to function relatively normally despite the buildup of lesions in the brain 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 cognitive decline in people without cognitive impairment 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.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 22,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

http://www.rush.edu/webapps/MEDREL/servlet/NewsRelease?id=1413


More About the Alzheimer's Reading Room


I Remember Better When I Paint: Treating Alzheimer's through the Creative Arts


Bob DeMarco is the editor of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. Bob has written more than 1,810 articles with more than 89,500 links on the Internet. Bob resides in Delray Beach, FL.


Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room


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