Scientists in the US have found that healthy older people who have engaged in cognitive stimulation activities throughout their life have lower levels of the protein amyloid in their brains, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. The study is published online today in the journal Archives of Neurology.
The researchers recruited 65 cognitively normal older people, alongside ten people with Alzheimer’s disease and 11 young people to act as controls. The healthy older volunteers were asked to report how often they took part in common cognitive activities such as writing emails or letters, reading books and newspapers, and playing games. They were also asked to report how often they took part in physical activity such as cycling or walking. The volunteers were then asked to take memory tests and brain scans to look at the amount of amyloid in their brains.
The study showed an association between the amount of cognitive activity reported in early to middle life and the amount of amyloid in the brains of the healthy elderly volunteers. Although large amounts of amyloid in the brain is a characteristic feature of Alzheimer’s disease, lower levels of amyloid can also be seen in the brains of older people with no reported cognitive problems. The study found that the more cognitive activity that the volunteers took part in throughout life, the less amyloid could be seen on their brain scans.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“The authors of this small study suggest that there may be benefits to keeping an active mind throughout life, not just in old age. Whilst the study found an association between cognitive activity and the levels of amyloid protein in the brain of healthy elderly volunteers, we cannot conclude that one directly causes the other.
“It would be important to follow these healthy participants and see whether those that reported higher cognitive activity were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s in the long run. With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, it is essential that we understand the factors that can lower our risk, so we must invest in more research.”
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