SAN DIEGO, CA - Keeping active outside work, either physically or mentally, in the midlife years may help prevent Alzheimer's disease, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 52nd Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA, April 29 - May 6, 2000.
Researchers found that people with higher levels of non-occupational activities, such as playing a musical instrument, gardening, physical exercise or even playing board games, were less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease later in life.
"People who were less active were more than three times more likely to have Alzheimer's disease as compared to those who were more active," said Robert Friedland, MD, a neurologist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals of Cleveland, OH, and primary author of the study.
This is the first study of its kind to examine levels of activity from at least five years before Alzheimer's symptoms appeared. The researchers used a questionnaire to collect data about participation in 26 activities - passive as well as intellectual and physical. The subjects were 193 people with Alzheimer's disease, with a mean age of 73, and 358 healthy people, with a mean age of 71.
Among the activities categorized as passive were watching television, social activities and attending church. Intellectual activities ranged from reading and painting to jigsaw puzzles, woodworking and knitting, whereas physical activity ran the gamut from gardening to racquet sports.
The healthy participants had been more active between the ages of 40 and 60 than had the patients with Alzheimer's, even after the data was adjusted to take into account differences, such as age, income, gender and education.
The study's findings also suggest that it is never too late to get started - at least as far as intellectual activities are concerned.
"A relative increase in the amount of time devoted to intellectual activities from early adulthood (ages 20 to 39) to mid-adulthood (ages 40 to 60) was associated with a significant decrease in the probability of having Alzheimer's disease later in life," said Friedland.
This study builds on previous work showing that people with Alzheimer's had been less physically active and had lower levels of educational and occupational achievement than people without the disease. This latest research, however, suggests that it doesn't take a doctorate to ward off Alzheimer's - an intellectually or physically stimulating hobby will also be helpful.
Passive activities, such as watching television, however, do not lower the risk for Alzheimer's disease.
"We believe public health measures should be instituted to enhance adult participation in physical and mental activities, and decrease participation in activities that involve little physical or intellectual stimulation, such as television," said Friedland.
The research suggests that the brain stimulation associated with intellectual and physical activities works against the neurodegeneration of diseases such as Alzheimer's. Although scientists cannot rule out the possibility that lower activity levels are themselves symptoms of the disease in its very early stages, Friedland believes that to be unlikely, because the study looked at levels of activity from at least five years before the onset of dementia.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 16,500 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit its Web site at http://www.aan.com. For online neurological health and wellness information, visit NeuroVista at http://www.aan.com/neurovista.
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