Dr's Casebook: Keeping your brain active really does delay Alzheimer’s

There has been a lot of research over the past few years looking at whether keeping the brain active for as long as you can is helpful in reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Saturday, 24th July 2021, 4:45 pm
Keep the brain active doing things like crosswords or sudoku puzzles. Photo: Getty Images

The very latest research strongly suggests that while maintaining cognitive activity may not stop one from getting Alzheimer’s, it can delay it coming by five years.

And the good news is that it is never too late to start.

In this research study published in the journal Neurology two thousand people with an average age of 80 years, who did not have dementia at the start of the study, were followed up for seven years.

They were given annual cognitive tests and were graded on a five point scale where one showed low daily cognitive activity and five was high.

The sort of cognitive activity they looked at were how often they played games like chess or draughts, board games, played cards, did crosswords, sudoku and other puzzles, read books or wrote letters.

They also asked them to rate how active they had been cognitively in early and middle life as well.

At the end of the seven years, 460 people with an average age of 89 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia.

People with the highest levels of activity, on average, developed dementia at the age of 94.

By contrast the people with the lowest cognitive activity, on average, developed dementia at age 89, a difference of five years.

The researchers wanted to make sure that people with low cognitive activity were not simply being inactive because they were in the early stage of Alzheimer’s.

They therefore examined the brains of seven hundred people who had died during the study.

They looked to see if there were pathological signs of Alzheimer’s, such as amyloid plaques or tau protein deposits.

They found no association between how active they were cognitively and pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Another fascinating conclusion they came to was that the early and middle years cognitive activity did not seem to affect this.

It was the cognitive activity in older life.

So, it is never too late to reap the benefit of those crosswords or sudoku puzzles.