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Mental exercise may speed up dementia

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Doing crossword puzzles and other mentally stimulating pursuits may hide the progress of Alzheimer’s disease rather than prevent it, meaning a crucial treatment window is missed, according to new research.

Scientists had previously shown the onset of dementia could be delayed by listening to the radio, doing puzzles, or other activities that keep the mind active.

But US researchers have shown the brain suffers progressive damage behind the scenes and there are often no symptoms to identify when a problem is present. This means when the Alzheimer’s symptoms do eventually appear the disease is often more advanced than expected.

As a result, doing puzzles, crosswords and other brain exercises can be linked with the disease progressing at a faster pace.

Study leader Dr Robert Wilson, from Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said: “Our results suggest that the benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline may come at the cost of more rapid dementia progression later on, but the question is: Why does this happen?”

Mentally stimulating activities may help the brain “rewire” itself to circumvent the effects of dementia, said Dr Wilson.

However, once the disease is diagnosed, damage to the brain is likely to be greater than it would be in someone who was not mentally stimulated.

Mental activity appeared to delay the start of Alzheimer’s and then speed up its progress, while reducing the overall amount of time a person suffers from the disease.

The 12-year-study, published online in the journal Neurology, involved evaluating the mental activity of 1,157 people aged 65 and over, none of whom had dementia at the start.

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • so what are we supposed to do? sit and twiddle our thumbs until dementia declares itself? what difference does it make anyway as dementia can't be treated. people should chose the activities they themselves find fitting to their lifestyle and enjoy instead of being coerced into what others think is good for them such as diet, exercise, mental gym etc. life is short enough leave people alone to decide and suit themselves. the human being and is brain is a self-determined organism and choses what suits it and what it needs to survive. perhaps instead of wasting so many resources on scientific research and much of which results in dangerous, conflicting and useless information it would be better to provide the resources for determining the type of care individuals need once the dementia has declared itself and provide this and care of the eldery to the highest possible taylor made standards with the dignity the elderly in the society deserve.

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  • The opinion expressed that research and "enjoying life" are not mutually compatible demonstrates a false logic. Much research in this area has led to a better quality of life for the dementia sufferer, often at little or no cost.

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  • *Anonymous | 6-Sep-2010 9:12 am

    it seems that cognitively stimulating activities may mask the period during which acetylcholinesterase inhibitors would help to slow the decline that becomes apparent at a later stage.

    perhaps research may one day uncover cheap, quick, accurate biomarkers in urine, saliva or blood that could screen for pre-symptomatic dementia allowing treatment that will allow patient's to continue with the crosswords, or other activities they enjoy, for longer.

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