A puzzle a day could help keep Alzheimer’s at bay.
Flex those brain muscles with a book or a bout of Sudoku and you may just lower your risk for the debilitating disease. But start early, or it may be too late to avoid the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia and memory loss among the elderly. A study published online in medical journal Archives of Neurology just this week showed that people who frequently engage in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, writing and playing games, throughout the course of their lives had lower levels of beta amyloid in their brains. Beta amyloid – a protein found to accumulate as plaque in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease sufferers – is toxic to nerve cells in the brain. It prevents brain cells fromcommunicating properly with one other, leading to memory problems and personality changes.
The research team from the University of California, Berkeley, looked at 65 healthy people, aged 60 and above, and control groups of 10 patients with Alzheimer’s and 11 healthy young people whose average agewas 23. They were interviewed on how often they kept mentally active during different phases of their lives, starting at age six. Then, their brains were scanned using a special method called positron emission tomography, which makesvisible the beta amyloid plaque in the brain.
Elderly who reported engaging in mentally stimulating activities at least a few times a week since childhood had beta amyloid levels similar to those in their 20s and 30s. Those who engaged in such activities less than a few times a month had beta amyloid levels similar to Alzheimer’s patients – placing them at higher risk for the disease in the comingyears. But the study also found that only those who habitually engage in some form of mental exercise in the early and middle years of their life (from ages six to 40) face a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Mental activity is still just a pre-emptive measure – not treatment – for Alzheimer’s, a disease which still hasnocure. The disease has been a growing problem for Singapore’s ageing population. According to the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, the prevalence rate of people aged 65 and above with dementia is about 6.2 per cent Andthe rate is projected to increase over the years. Dr Ho King Hee, a neurologist at Gleneagles Medical Centre, believes that follow-up studies should be doneto prove whether mental stimulation truly reduces a person’s chances of getting dementia. “Doctors have always been recommending physical and mental activity for patients who are already experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s, to slow the progression of the disease,” he said. “But studies have not yet managed to find a way to prevent its onset entirely.”
Other tips to slow the progression of Alzheimer’sOther tips to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s
- Have a glass or two of wine. Last year, researchers from the Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine found that moderate drinkers were 23 per cent less likely to suffer from any form of dementia. Exercise more. A study by Washington University this year said that people who reported walking or jogging often had less amyloid plaque in their brains than those who rarely exercised. Previous studies have also looked into the link between physical activity and Alzheimer’s.
- Quit smoking. A study published last year in the science journal Archives of Internal Medicine studied how smoking in mid-life more than doubles a person’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Smoking can damage blood vessels and lead to inflammation of pathways in the brain, which scientists believe could be crucial in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Learn more languages. In 2004, Dr Ellen Bialystok, a Canadian neuroscientist, reported a study where bilinguals manifested Alzheimer’s symptoms five or six years later than monolinguals did.