Evidence is accumulating that certain activities are correlated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, though whether this relationship is one of cause and effect is still open to debate. Recent articles have demonstrated this link for higher educational level and certain leisure activities. Now an article in the current Journal of the American Medical Association finds that frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities is associated with reduced risk of AD.

Robert S. Wilson and his colleagues at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago found their subjects in the ongoing Religious Orders Study. Upon entry into the study, 801 elderly priests and nuns, none with AD, had been queried about time spent in seven common activities that involve information processing as a central component (viewing television; listening to radio; reading newspapers; reading magazines; reading books; playing games such as cards, checkers, crosswords or other puzzles; and going to museums.) Based on frequency of participation in each activity, a composite activity score on a five-point scale was determined for each subject.

After controlling for age, sex, and education, the researchers found that a one-point increase in the cognitive activity score was associated with a 33 percent reduction in risk of AD. Additional analyses attempting to control for baseline levels of cognitive decline found that a one-point increase in the cognitive activity score was associated with reduced decline in global cognition (by 47 percent), working memory (by 60 percent), and perceptual speed (by 30 percent).-Hakon Heimer.

Reference:
Wilson RS et al. Participation in cognitively stimulating activities and risk of incident Alzheimer's disease. JAMA 2002 Feb 13;287(6):742-8. Abstract

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  1. This is one of few studies that have longitudinally explored the relation between lifestyle and dementia. The authors carefully tested the hypothesis that engagement in cognitive activities is associated with both reduced risk for development of dementia and slower rates of cognitive decline. The results held even when many potential confounders were controlled for and even when subjects with low memory scores at baseline evaluation were excluded from the analyses. We have reported similar associations between intellectual (but also social and physical) engagements and risk for dementia in an ongoing cohort of 1,772 subjects in New York City.

    It is plausible that engagement in intellectually stimulating activities might affect subjects' cognitive reserve capacities and enable them to cope longer before the clinical manifestations of disease are apparent. However, the short interval between assessment of cognitive activities and disease outcome raises the possibility that they might reflect an early disease manifestation rather than a risk factor per se.

    Nevertheless, the hypothesis of lifestyle modifications affecting brain disease outcome becomes even more exciting in the face of increasing animal research literature about neuronal plasticity and its association with learning, and physically and socially enriched environment.

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References

News Citations

  1. Link Between Education Level and AD Risk Strengthened
  2. Active Life of Leisure Appears to Build Reserves Against AD

Paper Citations

  1. . Participation in cognitively stimulating activities and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. JAMA. 2002 Feb 13;287(6):742-8. PubMed.

Further Reading

Papers

  1. . Participation in cognitively stimulating activities and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. JAMA. 2002 Feb 13;287(6):742-8. PubMed.

News

  1. Link Between Education Level and AD Risk Strengthened
  2. Active Life of Leisure Appears to Build Reserves Against AD

Primary Papers

  1. . Participation in cognitively stimulating activities and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. JAMA. 2002 Feb 13;287(6):742-8. PubMed.