Doing Brainteasers Now May Speed Up Dementia Later On

What you do now to stay sharp could lead to quicker decline if dementia sets in

We’ve all heard that mentally stimulating activities like crossword puzzles, reading and listening to the radio can help delay cognitive decline. While a new study published by the journal Neurology confirms this, it also finds that brain boosters, though protective at the beginning, may speed up dementia later on.

According to the study’s lead author, Robert Wilson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago, mentally stimulating exercises can help keep the mind functioning normally despite the buildup of brain lesions associated with dementia. However, once dementia sets in, people who are mentally active suffer a quicker progression of the disease than those who don’t keep their minds stimulated.

For the study, researchers followed 1,157 people age 65 or older who did not have dementia at the start of the program. The team tracked volunteers’ mental activities and cognitive ability over the course of 12 years. For each mentally stimulating activity that participants were involved in, they slowed down their rate of cognitive decline by 52 percent. People who went on to develop Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, increased their rate of decline by 42 percent for each activity.

“Our results suggest that the benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline may come at the cost of more rapid dementia progression later on,” Wilson said in a written statement. The question they have yet to answer is why.

While this study may come as a bit of a downer, the good news is that by engaging in stimulating activities, people can reduce the overall amount of time that they suffer from dementia. It could give them more healthy and vital years before dementia or Alzheimer’s sets in, and it could reduce the amount of time that they must be under the custody of a caregiver. Seeing that dementia and Alzheimer’s can be a struggle not just for those with the diagnoses, but for those who are also caring for them, it is at least a small bit of solace that when our time comes, we won’t have to be as much of a burden on those we love for quite so many years. It may be macabre, but it’s a silver lining nonetheless. And if there’s one thing we do know about keeping our minds young, it’s that staying upbeat is essential.

Does this study make you want to keep doing Sudoku and crosswords or toss them out immediately? Chime in below.

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