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'Use it or lose it?' study suggests mentally stimulating activities may reduce Alzheimer's risk

In recent years, many of us have come to believe that doing crossword puzzles or playing cards might ward off a decline in memory or help us maintain brainpower as we age. Now, a new study suggests there might be some truth to the use-it-or-lose-it hypothesis.

The study, by scientists at the Rush Alzheimers Disease Center and Rush-Presbyterian-St. Lukes Medical Center in Chicago, IL, appearing in the February 13, 2002, Journal of the American Medical Association, found that more frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimers disease (AD). The research looked at everyday activities like reading books, newspapers or magazines, engaging in crosswords or card games, and going to museums among participants in the Religious Orders Study, an ongoing examination of aging among older Catholic nuns, priests, and brothers from several groups across the U.S. On a scale measuring cognitive activity -- with higher scores indicating more frequent activity -- a one-point increase in cognitive activity corresponded with a 33 percent reduction in the risk of AD.

The examination of cognitively stimulating activities and risk of AD was conducted by Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Rush Alzheimers Disease Center, including David A. Bennett, M.D., principal investigator for the Religious Orders Study, and Denis A. Evans, M.D., director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA)-supported Rush Alzheimers Disease Center. The NIA is part of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services.

The findings are likely to strike a chord among middle-aged and older people interested in preserving cognitive health. We are asked constantly about this use-it-or-lose-it approach to maintaining memory, says Elisabeth Koss, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the NIAs Alzheimers Disease Centers Program. This study provides important new evidence that there may be something to the notion of inc
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Contact: Vicky Cahan
cahanv@nia.nih.gov
301-496-1752
NIH/National Institute on Aging
12-Feb-2002


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