Dementia and mental exercise

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: February 16th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Scientists don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s disease and there is no cure, but a growing body of evidence suggests there may be steps we can take to prevent it.

We can’t do much about two of the diseases major risk factors, age and genetics, but we can strive for good physical health. High cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes have all been linked to dementia.

Mental exercises can also help aging minds stay sharp.

In a National Institute on Aging-funded study of older priests, nuns and brothers, known as the Religious Orders Study, seven-hundred participants regularly reported the amount of time they spent doing activities that involved significant information processing. These activities included listening to the radio, reading newspapers, tackling puzzle games and visiting museums. At the end of the four-year study, investigators found that the participants who most frequently engaged in intellectually stimulating exercises had a forty-seven percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those participants who were least mentally active.

Strong personal relationships and regular socializing could also keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay. A number of studies have found a connection between social activity and cognitive performance, suggesting that older adults with busy social calendars have a decreased risk of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease takes years to develop and begins long before symptoms appear. So, to receive the most benefit from preventive actions, efforts to enhance physical and mental health should start early in life and continue throughout adulthood.