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Brain Exercises Can Delay Dementia

There's new evidence that exercising one's brain with mental activities can help keep dementia at bay.

Charles Hall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and colleagues studied 488 people ages 75 to 85 who did not have dementia when the study began. The subjects reported how commonly they took part in six activities that kept their brains active: reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing cards or board games, participating in group discussions and playing a musical instrument. Over the next five years, 101 of the subjects developed dementia.

For every additional activity a person reported participating in, the onset of memory loss among those who developed dementia was delayed by 0.18 years, the researchers reported this week in the journal Neurology. That may not sound like much, but it translated into more than a year of keeping the rapid decline in memory from occurring for the person who participated in 11 activities per week compared to the person who participated in only four each week, the researchers reported.

The findings held up even after the researchers took into consideration the participants' levels of education.

Although more research is needed, the researchers say the findings add to a growing body of evidence that indicates that keeping your mind active throughout life could help stave off the effects of aging.

By Rob Stein  |  August 6, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Alzheimers/Dementia  
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I have not read the article, but based on this description the researchers found a negative correlation between activities and risk of developing dementia. (More activities are associated with a lower risk.) Remember from Psyc 101: Correlation is not causation. It could be that people engage in more brain activities because they don't have the precursors of dementia. I hope that there is a direct causal relationship, given that I do read a lot, play games, etc. But we can't tell people that these activities will delay dementia because we have not established a cause and effect relationship.

Posted by: drl97 | August 6, 2009 10:48 AM | Report abuse

An important factor in an effective brain fitness program is a balanced approached. For optimal health, all 5 areas of brain function need regular exercise. For maximum mental stimulation, these exercise activities need to provide..Variety, Diversity and Complexity

By providing diverse stimulation across the spectrum of the brain, and ramping the difficulty in ways that increase the complexity of the tasks over time, our brain games and tools can offer you an effective means of brain exercise.

Fit Brains games offer a variety of well-rounded, scientifically-based brain stimulation activities wrapped within a fun and engaging experience that is accessible even to first-time users

Posted by: rberbudeau | August 6, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

My view of the early onset of dementia is that too often seniors who have enjoyed doing certain things all their lives…..maybe working in the garden, wood working, DIY projects like taking care of household plumbing, auto restoration etc……….are usually not allowed in retirement communities. This fact coupled with a typical senior’s resistance to change allows their minds to either slow or shut down prematurely. Simply put….If you don’t use it……you are likely to lose it!

Posted by: tonyholst | August 6, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

dr197, you took the words right out of my mouth: "It could be that people engage in more brain activities because they don't have the precursors of dementia."

Posted by: cmckeonjr | August 6, 2009 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I don't give much credence to the "correlation is not causation" arguments when it comes to this issue. Considering how beneficial diverse mental stimulation has been shown in young, developing minds, and further correlations signifying better mental health among people in their prime, combined with how we know the brain continues to make new neural connections when you engage it well and often, it makes perfect sense that it behooves even the intellectually modest to do various frequent mental activities as they enter their senior years.

I certainly hope it's not an excuse when some of you say "It could be that people engage in more brain activities because they don't have the precursors of dementia." Just like with one's physical health, everyone should do whatever they can to keep their mental health going. And it's unfortunate that for many of those seniors less able to physically care for themselves, they don't have enough stimulating mental activities readily at their disposal.

Posted by: Comunista | August 6, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

It is a pity our political leaders didn't get this article, and it's a pity the voters didn't get the article before electing them to office.

Posted by: panamajack | August 6, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

drl97, cmckeonjr, I agree with both of you.
Comunista, "correlation is not causation" is issue agnostic. The fact that something makes perfect sense, AND that it appears to play out in this study SUGGESTS that it is true. It doesn't PROVE it. As drl97 said, there is hope that it is true and, as we are all at least readers here, we may all be the beneficiaries if it is.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | August 6, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

Can these help mental midgets like Sarah Palin?

Posted by: bs2004 | August 11, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

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