Philadelphia, PA, April 25, 2012 The findings of a new study suggest that the protective effects of an active cognitive lifestyle arise through multiple biological pathways.
For some time researchers have been aware of a link between what we do with our brains and the long term risk for dementia. In general, those who are more mentally active or maintain an active cognitive lifestyle throughout their lives are at lower risk.
"The ideas of a 'brain reserve' or 'cognitive reserve' have been suggested to explain this, but were basically a black box. This research throws some light on what may be happening at the biological level," said Associate Professor Michael J. Valenzuela, a brain aging expert at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, Australia, who led this new study.
Researchers used data from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study, a large population-based study in the United Kingdom that has been following over 13,000 elderly individuals prospectively since 1991.
At the time of this study, 329 brains had been donated and were available for analysis. Brains were compared based on the individual's dementia status at death (yes or no) and cognitive lifestyle score, or CLS (low, middle, or high).
The three CLS groups did not differ among multiple Alzheimer's disease (AD) neuropathology measures, including plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and atrophy. This means that cognitive lifestyle seems to have no effect on the brain changes typically seen in those with Alzheimer's disease.
However, an active cognitive lifestyle in men was associated with less cerebrovascular disease, in particular disease of the brain's microscopic blood vessels. An active cognitive lifestyle in women was associated with greater brain weight. In both men and women, high CLS was associated with greater neuronal density and cortical thickness in the frontal lobe.
"These findings suggest that increas
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