Jul 8, 2013

How to Reduce Memory Loss in Old Age

Conclusion: more frequent cognitive activity, and keeping your brain active, helps slow memory loss as you age.

By Bob DeMarco
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

How to Reduce Memory Loss in Old Age | Alzheimer's Reading Room

New research suggests that reading books, writing and participating in brain-stimulating activities at any age may preserve memory.

The study is published in the July 3, 2013, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

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This study really caught my attention. Here is the reason.

My mother, Dotty, continued to read a book at night before falling asleep even when she couldn't remember a single word she read. She did this even when she was closing in on the severe stage of dementia. She did this until 3 weeks before she died.

In addition, I had my mother read to me from the newspaper every morning. She talked frequently during the day with her toy repeat parrot Harvey, and she often started singing while listening to the music channel.

All of those activities along with others like exercise, social stimulation, and daily excursions into bright light were designed to do two things: keep my mother's brain active, and to help her make new brain cells.

It is my belief that this concerted effort on our part to keep my mother "living her life" explains in part why my mother could still speak, read and write even though she was in a very advanced stage of Alzheimer's disease.

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The Gist
“Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The Highlights
  • For the study, 294 people were given tests that measured memory and thinking every year for about six years before their deaths at an average age of 89.
  • They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote and participated in other mentally stimulating activities during childhood, adolescence, middle age and at their current age.
  • After they died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles.
  • The research found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities both early and late in life had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not participate in such activities across their lifetime, after adjusting for differing levels of plaques and tangles in the brain.
  • Mental activity accounted for nearly 15 percent of the difference in decline beyond what is explained by plaques and tangles in the brain. “Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents,” said Wilson.
  • The study found that the rate of decline was reduced by 32 percent in people with frequent mental activity in late life, compared to people with average mental activity, while  the rate of decline of those with infrequent activity was 48 percent faster than those with average activity.
Published online before print July 3, 2013, doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829c5e8a
Neurology 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829c5e8a
Robert S. Wilson, PhD, Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, Lei Yu, PhD, Lisa L. Barnes, PhD, Julie A. Schneider, MD and David A. Bennett, MD

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 26,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit http://www.aan.com

To learn more about Alzheimer's and Dementia visit the Alzheimer's Reading Room.