Researchers from Rush University published a study in early September where they followed over 1,100 people for 12 years to measure the impact of cognitively active lifestyles and the impact on Alzheimer’s dementia. The conclusion was, “… the rate of cognitive decline in people without cognitive impairment was reduced by 52 percent for each point on the cognitive activity scale.”
This is another piece of information that adds to evidence that we can impact the trajectory of the brain by challenging it with new and novel activities. The authors also went on to say in published interviews that the results suggest that mental exercises help prevent the onset of dementia, but only if they’re started before signs of cognitive impairment appear. This is why Posit Science talks about the importance of brain fitness and incorporating challenges into daily life just like we do with exercise.
I wanted to mention that there have been multiple, confusing headlines that imply a trade-off between staying cognitively active and then incurring a steeper decline once the Alzheimer’s or dementia symptoms are noticeable. That “speeding up” is not the right way to think about what’s occurring. The actively challenged mind compensates for the impact of the disease so that symptoms are mitigated, allowing for a longer period of quality life. Once the symptoms do appear, the impact is swift as the underlying disease is far along by the time it breaks through the brain’s build-up of protection. That is not a trade-off or a speeding up of decline in my opinion.
The author of the study said basically the same thing. “Wilson noted that mental activities compress the time period that a person spends with dementia, delaying its start and then speeding up its progress. ‘This reduces the overall amount of time that a person may suffer from dementia,’ he said.”