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Alzheimer's Disease: Staying Mentally Active May Not Delay The Illness

First Posted: Feb 24, 2016 08:39 PM EST

Previous studies have shown that mental and physical activity can help delay symptoms relating to Alzheimer's disease in some patients. However, new findings published in Neurology show that mental activities, in particular, do not always change the underlying disease in the brains of most individuals who may succumb to the illness.

More specifically, for carriers of a gene linked to Alzheimer's disease, known as gene APOE4, findings showed that at least 14 years of education helped keep them mentally active during middle age; this was seen via lower levels of proteins known as amyloid plaques in their brains that cause the illness. However, for those who did not stay mentally active during middle age, they had higher levels of the plaques. 

"When we looked specifically at the level of lifetime learning, we found that carriers of the APOE4 gene who had higher education and continued to learn through middle age had fewer amyloid deposition on imaging when compared to those who did not continue with intellectual activity in middle age," says study author Prashanthi Vemuri, Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic dementia researcher, in a news release.

During the study, researchers evaluated close to 400 people without dementia who were part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. From the sample, 53 had mild cognitive impiarment--all of whom were 70 or older. They were divided into two groups: those with more than 14 years of education and those with less. Then, researchers used MRI and positron emission tomography scans to look for biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease and questionnaires to evaluate weekly intellectual and physical activity in middle age.

Researchers noted that for those who do not carry the gene, this should not discourage them from exercising or mental activities that keep the brain healthy. "The takeaway message for the general public is that keeping your mind active is very important in delaying symptoms of Alzheimer's disease," concluded Vemuri.

The initial onset of dementia can be slow or quite progressive, with symptoms relanging from memory loss, to behavioral changes and chronic confusion, as well as a host of other issues. If you or a loved one is noticing issues, contact your primary care physician for guidance.  

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