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Dementia Prevention?

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Alzheimer’s Disease affects nearly 6 million Americans and despite having some clinical therapies that modestly impact the disease onset or progression, there is not yet a cure.  Yet, there is accumulating evidence that the best “cure” for Alzheimer’s may be a lot like the cure for other chronic, degenerative diseases.  That is, the best cure is in prevention, according to research reported in JAMA, Psychiatry.

What I have to share today is not truly new, but the findings reported by some researchers in China suggest that certain “intellectual activities” can protect aging adults from the onset of Alzheimer’s.  Other studies have shown that engaging in games and social contact is associated with lower rates of Alzheimer’s.  This study, however, is noteworthy because it follows a very large number of subjects – more than 15,000 – and the researchers followed them for nearly seven years.  The scientists further controlled for other factors that have muddied the research waters in the past, factors such as physical activities, other psychiatric issues and some social and demographic traits.

The intellectual activities that had the effect of reducing the number of people who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease were as simple as reading or playing card or board games….even betting on horse races.   Active participation in intellectual activities, such as reading and playing board games or card games, may delay or prevent dementia in older adults, even if these activities take place in late life, this new research suggests.

All subjects in the study were at least 65 years old, and the researchers found that by year three they could identify individuals who had some measurable cognitive decline.  This decline continued with those who measured lower on the equivalent of the mini-mental health scale.  Those who declined were involved in about half as many of the intellectual activities.  They also tended to more often be women than men, they were less educated and they had poorer diets and physical activity than those who scored higher on cognition.  An interesting side note is that there were comparable rates of smoking and other psychological diagnoses across the dementia and non-dementia groups.

As with most research into dementia’s onset, there are still questions.  For instance, how much did a better diet affect the outcomes.  Or did people who engaged in more intellectually healthy activities also more often engage in other healthy activities.  Clearly, there is more to come.  I would conclude that engagement in more intellectual activities is good for your brain, but I would add that you may not wish to bet too much on the horses!

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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