Health Discoveries in General Health News

Mentally active show faster decline with onset of dementia

September 16, 2010
A Rush University study suggests that mentally stimulating activities such as reading and word puzzles may hold off mental decline for a time in seniors, but hasten that decline once symptoms of dementia begin to show.

Over 12 years, researchers tracked nearly 1,200 older adults. For those who eventually developed dementia and had been mentally active, there was an accelerated mental decline after the illness took effect.

The findings, published online in Neurology, point out that mental exercise does not prevent the formation of neurodegenerative lesions called plaques and tangles in the brains of dementia patients. Once they reach a certain level of development, behavioral signs of Alzheimer's occur, and their accumulation of plaques may be greater.

"The person who has a history of being cognitively active actually has more of the pathology in their brain, and so really has more severe disease," said Robert Wilson, a senior neuropsychologist at the university's Alzheimer's Disease Center. "That's why they decline more rapidly from that point on."

A clinical study under way at the Litwin-Zucker Research Center, which researches Alzheimer's disease for the North Shore-LIJ Health System, focuses on people with memory disorders and their family history to see how they relate to memory, thinking, behavior and physical health.
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