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Repeated Brain Stimulation in Old Age can Keep Alzheimer's at Bay

Activities that stimulate the brain, such as reading the newspaper or playing chess, reduces the risk of the elderly developing Alzheimer's, a new study shows.

As a part of the study researchers Rush University Medical Center followed more that 700 people in Chicago, with an average age of 80, for up to five years. These participants formed part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a longitudinal study of more than 1,200 older people, and underwent yearly cognitive testing. Of the participants, 90 developed Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers also performed a brain autopsy on the 102 participants who died. They found that a cognitively active person in old age was 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease than a cognitively inactive person in old age.

This association remained after controlling for past cognitive activity, lifetime socioeconomic status, and current social and physical activity.

"Alzheimer's disease is among the most feared consequences of old age. The enormous public health problems posed by the disease are expected to increase during the coming decades as the proportion of old people in the United States increases. This underscores the urgent need for strategies to prevent the disease or delay its onset," said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD.

The study also found frequent cognitive activity during old age, such as visiting a library or attending a play, was associated with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment, a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, and less rapid decline in cognitive function.

Supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging and the Illinois Department of Public Health, the study was published June 27, 2007, in the online edition of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.


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