What are top brains with daily activities
So the brain breaks down more slowly
CHICAGO. If older people can still easily solve crossword puzzles, keep up with philosophical discussions or enjoy reading sophisticated literature - then the chances are good to survive the next few years without dementia.
The interesting question now is: does dementia stay away because of mental activity, or can such people be so mentally active only because fate has not provided dementia for them and no neurodegeneration affects their intellectual abilities? What is cause and what is effect is difficult to see here.
With an interesting approach, researchers led by Dr. Robert S. Wilson of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago tries to determine the direction of causality.
And, according to their findings, a high level of mental activity can actually slow down cognitive decline.
For a study, the US neurologists asked older people without dementia what and how often they are currently mentally occupied and how they used to keep their brain busy (Neurology 2013; 81: 1).
It was asked, for example, how often they read books, visited a library, wrote letters or researched certain information. Their cognitive performance was then examined annually using 19 tests.
Brain degeneration studied
The special thing about the study: The prerequisite for participation was consent to a brain autopsy after death. This enabled Wilson and his team to determine whether and to what extent neurodegeneration had occurred.
After almost six years, the researchers had access to the brains of 294 deceased participants. The brains of the participants, who had lived an average of 90 years, were now meticulously examined for amyloid plaques, tau fibrils, Lewy bodies or signs of microscopic and macroscopic infarctions.
The researchers then compared cognitive performance and mental activity before death with the pathological findings.
If mental activity and cognitive performance were strictly linked to the lesion load, different degrees of neurodegeneration would already have explained why some people are more mentally fitter and more active in old age than others and degrade more slowly - they would simply have less neurodegeneration.
However, there was no such strict coupling. Ultimately, pathological findings and differences in age, gender, and education only explained a third of the differences in cognitive decline.
Participants with a high level of mental activity were able to maintain their mental abilities for longer than their mentally lethargic peers regardless of the lesion load - the cognitive decline took place much more slowly in them.
In the course of the study, the mental decline in the 10 percent of the most mentally active participants at the start of the study was around a third slower than the average, while in the 10 percent of the most mentally lazy participants it was 50 percent faster. Changes in the total score of the 19 cognition tests were used as a measure.
Lifelong activity pays off
A similar picture emerged when looking at mental activity in early life. In the 10 percent of the participants who were most mentally active at a young age, the cognitive decline in old age was also a third slower, in the 10 percent of the weary around 40 percent faster than the average.
It should be noted, however, that people who were spiritually active early on in life often remained so into old age. Ultimately, it's probably about being mentally on your toes for life.
Of course, not all of the differences in mental degradation that remain after considering neuropathology can be traced back to mental activity. There are many other factors.
According to their calculations, the researchers assume that one seventh of the differences are due to differences in mental activity. Anyone who reads and writes a lot can at least maintain their mental health substantially longer in old age.
The authors suspect that mentally active people build up a high cognitive reserve in the course of their life - the required areas of the brain are structurally strengthened as a result, and the neurodegeneration does not become noticeable as quickly.
There is also evidence that mental activity directly slows neurodegeneration. The beta-amyloid deposition seems to be somewhat reduced.
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