A new study shows there is some truth in the 'use it or lose it' advice when it comes keeping the brain active. It is long been believed that mental stimulation can protect the brain from Alzheimer's disease. Researchers at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Centre in the US now reveal new evidence for this. The report is part of the ongoing Religious Orders Study, involving the cognitive health of older Catholic nuns, priests and brothers across the nation.
The researchers asked 500 participants, free of dementia at the start, about participation in a range of mental activities. These included reading, doing crosswords, visiting museums and playing cards and checkers. They were assigned points for each activity and its frequency. Over the next few years, on average, 100 people went on to develop Alzheimer's disease.
Those with higher points on the mental activity scale seemed to have a lower risk of dementia. It's an encouraging result, for everyone can find some mental activity that gives pleasure - now knowing that it may also protect them from dementia. What's not yet clear is just how mental stimulation protects the brain. It's also possible that a predisposition to Alzheimer's somehow leads to mental passivity in later life; further study should clear this up.