According to a new study, doing the activities to stimulate brain from childhood, e.g. writing letters, reading books, solving problems of everyday life, through the old age might prevent dementia’s clinical signs like memory loss.

Robert Wilson said, the study’s lead author.

“Certain things increase or decrease your vulnerability to cognitive [mental] decline,”

Keeping the brain active appears to help the certain circuits of brain to effectively operate, even if gradually the buildup of the brain is occurring already, said Robert Wilson, the lead author of study and professor in Chicago at Rush University Medical Center.

People who got involved in frequent brain activities in the life later had mental decline rate 32% lower than the ones who had average activity. Along with this, the ones with mental activity only some times in life experienced decline in the mental abilities which was faster by 48%.

This research, published in Neurology journal online on 3rd July helps to explain why 1/3rd of people pass away when they are old with very little signs of issues with memory or learning, thinking, yet when the autopsies of brain are done, actually they have strong evidence of the Alzheimer’s disease, according to Wilson.

This idea that brain somehow does create work-around in order to avoid displaying signs of the Alzheimer’s as well as any other dementia often is called hypothesis of cognitive reserve, said Wilson. This concept shows that the people with elevated thinking levels, memory and learning abilities somehow are capable of delaying symptoms of the Alzheimer’s. Though, proving this hypothesis is challenging for the scientists.

In Minn., at Mayo Clinic, radiology’s assistant professor, Prashanthi Vemuri wrote that there has been the debate in long-term in this field regarding how the cognitive activities do preserve cognition. Question essentially is: What comes first, egg or chicken?

Vemuri said,

“Does engagement in cognitive activities slow cognitive decline, or are people less interested in doing cognitive activities because they have problems with dementia?”

She thinks that this study confirms whatever is going on in brain is in fact going on, though activities that are cognitively stimulating done by a person independently do slow down progression of disease.

How is it that activities which challenge intellectually help to support the brain function? Wilson explained that brain constantly tries adapting to challenges that are put its way. He said that brain is dependent on experience and the activities which are sustained impact its function and structure and the cognitive circuits which are structured elaborately and functioning well are capable of adapting when aging occurs.

Researchers conducted the follow-up of long-term and actually they performed participants’ brains’ autopsies after their death for confirming presence or absence of disease, said Vemuri.

Scientists started back in the year 1997, inquiring 294 participants, who were all above 55 years of age, to report their recent and life-time activities related to thinking, from the childhood till young adulthood, the middle age as well as the present. Participants’ memory along with thinking ability was regularly tested and neurological exams each year were also done. Participants included 68% women, had education of 14 years and 37% had mild impairment of thinking when they began in study.

When each participant passed away, examiners who didn’t have knowledge of evaluation data clinically performed independent brain inspection, looking for any established dementia signs, called tangles, Lewy bodies, infarcts and plaques.

Then researchers compared these findings of brain to data which they collected and they found that the present mental activity did slow rate of the mental decline many years before the death.

It was pointed out by Wilson that research does not prove the effect and cause. One clinical trial will be required for it, that involves assigning people randomly to one or another set of the behaviours and it will be inordinately expensive and unethical, he said. Now he is doing the neuroimaging studies for better understanding what it’s about a lifestyle that’s cognitively stimulation which helps to protect brain. For protecting one’s brain, Wilson suggests finding any hobby which is sustainable, like photography, learning the Morse code, acting in theatre and quilting. He said that physical activity also is important.

According to Vemuri, people should start to develop their memory and thinking skills when they are quite young and that parents need to know that the programs of reading at young age would help kids to have better old age

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