There are brain activities that can help you prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Reading this article can help. So might writing a letter, playing a card game or going to the library.
Researchers have long believed that cognitive activity could help strengthen the brain’s defenses against Alzheimer’s disease. But a new study shows for the first time how that might work.
Test subjects who engaged in cognitive exercise over a lifetime had less of a protein that is believed to contribute to brain-cell decline in Alzheimer’s patients.
Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley used brain scans to measure the amount of beta amyloid, a protein that accumulates between nerve cells and reduces brain function.
They tested healthy young people, healthy older people and a group of Alzheimer’s patients and found that the healthy older people who exercised their brains throughout their lives had less beta amyloid built up in their brains. That means they should be less likely to develop Alzheimer’s .
“What this suggests is that lifelong cognitive engagement might have real, substantial benefits to the brain,” said Bill Jagust, a UC-Berkeley professor and a co-author of the study.
The research did not look at whether some activities were more beneficial than others. What matters is that the brain is engaged and that the benefits are greatest if the activity is started at a young age.
A bigger “cognitive reserve” could delay the onset of symptoms. The same goes for those with more education.
“You have more to destroy before you reach the threshold where ‘I’ve forgot my keys’ or ‘I can’t remember how to pay the bills.’ ”
Scharre and other OSU researchers are studying people with mild cognitive problems now, asking them to complete exercises in music, art and problem-solving, in the hopes it will improve their memory loss. Similarly, a new program at the Columbus Museum of Art is designed to help spark memories in people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The monthly program aims to give patients and their caregivers a chance to discuss works of art.
In trial runs, the art appeared to help people make connections, said Kenneth Strong, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Central Ohio Chapter. “It’s just amazing. They come up with things in their past that catch you off guard.”
Despite some of the data it is unclear whether exercising your brain, even from a young age, can stop Alzheimer’s. It might delay it, but it’s a “bigger leap” to think the disease could be prevented in someone who’s genetically prone.
Scharre, the Ohio State neurologist, said cognitive exercise is worth a shot. “Why not do more with your brain?” he said. “You might help society; you might help yourself. You’ll probably enjoy life more. There’s no downside.”
The Columbus Dispatch