August 3, 2021

Brain sports effective in delaying Alzheimer’s disease

Read (The world, books, magazines…); write letters; play cards or board games; do puzzles… In short, make your brain work, whatever your age. A prospective study, published online July 14 in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, concludes that engaging in intellectually stimulating activities at an advanced age delays the onset of clinical signs of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by five years.

While this neurodegenerative disease, which affects around 50 million people worldwide (1.2 million in France according to Public Health France) has almost no treatment to slow its progression (the effectiveness of aducanumab, authorized in June in the United States, remains controversial), research also emphasizes prevention.

In recent years, confirmed studies have established that more than a third of new cases could be prevented by fighting against cardiovascular risk factors, mainly tobacco, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure and diabetes. It has also been shown that the first symptoms of AD appear all the later as the duration of the studies is long. Intellectual activity increases the performance of neural connections, which allows individuals to resist a neurodegenerative process for longer. This is the concept of cognitive reserve.

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What about the effect of intellectual activities at a late age? To study it, Robert Wilson’s team (Rush University, Chicago, United States) followed for an average of seven years 1,903 elderly people who were not initially affected by AD. These volunteers completed a seven-item questionnaire on their reading habits and other cognitive activities such as board games and letter writing. The test was rated on a scale of 1 to 5, depending on the frequency of practice.

Reduce prevalence and cost

During the study period, when they underwent annual check-ups, 457 participants reported Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms appeared on average at 88.6 years in those with low cognitive activity (score 2.1 out of 5), compared to 93.6 years in the group with a high score (4), a difference of five years. The conclusions remained unchanged taking into account variables such as the level of education and the intensity of social relations.

“Our data suggest that the association between cognitive activity and the age of onset of Alzheimer’s disease is primarily determined by cognitive activity late in life”, write Robert Wilson and his co-authors, pointing out that their study focuses on a selected population: the majority of participants are white, with a rather high level of education.

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