Keeping Your Brain Active Could Stave Off Alzheimer’s for Up to Five Years

Sometimes it’s easy to sit back and stream TV when you have down time. While that has its place, activities that promote more brain activity are good to sneak in from time-to-time. Researchers say increasing your time spent on such activities could prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s by several years.

A team of researchers looked at how frequently senior citizens did activities like reading, putting together puzzles, or playing board games and how that impacted their chances of developing Alzheimer’s. The findings show that those who regularly engaged in these pastimes developed Alzheimer’s up to five years later than those who rarely did so. The study was recently published in the journal Neurology.


Dr. Robert Wilson, study author from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, says, “Our findings suggest it may be beneficial to start doing these things, even in your 80s, to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.”

To conduct the research, the team looked at nearly 2,000 people with an average age of 80 who did not have dementia when the study began. Participants answered questions like how frequently they’d read books or played board games in the prior year, as well as questions about their cognitive activities at different stages of their lives. Then the participants had annual examinations that included cognitive tests. Overall, 457 participants developed Alzheimer’s.

Researchers found that those who participated in some sort of cognitive activity several times a week were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at an average age of 94. Meanwhile, those who only did so several times a year were an average age of 89 at diagnosis. When adjusted for factors that could increase dementia risk, there were was little difference.


To test whether or not low cognitive activity could be an early sign of dementia, rather than the other way around, the team examined the brains of the nearly 700 participants who died during the study. While looking for biomarkers like amyloid and tau protein deposits, they didn’t find a link between those and how cognitively active people were.

Wilson says, “Our study shows that people who engage in more cognitively stimulating activities may be delaying the age at which they develop dementia. It is important to note, after we accounted for late life level of cognitive activity, neither education nor early life cognitive activity were associated with the age at which a person developed Alzheimer’s dementia. Our research suggests that the link between cognitive activity and the age at which a person developed dementia is mainly driven by the activities you do later in life.”

The researchers note that most people who took part were highly educated and white, so they’d need a broader sample to see if the findings apply to the population as a whole.

Are you looking to keep mentally stimulated as you age? Harvard Health recommends reading, taking courses, figuring out word puzzles or math problems, or doing activities that combine manual dexterity and mental effort, like drawing, painting, and other crafts.

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