Feeding the Brain’s Curiosity Helps Delay Alzheimer’s, Study Says (Bloomberg):
“People genetically prone to Alzheimer’s who went to college, worked in complex fields and stayed engaged intellectually held off the disease almost a decade longer than others, a study found.
Lifelong intellectual activities such as playing music or reading kept the mind fit as people aged and also delayed Alzheimer’s by years for those at risk of the disease who weren’t college educated or worked at challenging jobs, the researchers said in the study published today in JAMA Neurology.
“Keeping your brain mentally stimulated is a lifelong enterprise,” David Knopman, a study author and a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said…
Currently there are no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s. A report by the Alzheimer’s Association projected that any treatment that could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years would reduce the expected number of patients with the disease in the U.S. by about 43 percent by 2050.”
Study: Association of Lifetime Intellectual Enrichment With Cognitive Decline in the Older Population (JAMA Neurology). From the abstract:
- Importance: Intellectual lifestyle enrichment throughout life is increasingly viewed as a protective strategy against commonly observed cognitive decline in the older population.
- Objectives: To investigate the association of lifetime intellectual enrichment with baseline cognitive performance and rate of cognitive decline in an older population without dementia and to estimate the years of protection provided against cognitive impairment by these factors.
- Results:…For APOE4 carriers with high lifetime intellectual enrichment (75th percentile of education/occupation score and midlife to late-life cognitive activity), the onset of cognitive impairment was approximately 8.7 years later compared with low lifetime intellectual enrichment (25th percentile of education/occupation score and mid/late-life cognitive activity).
- Conclusions and Relevance: Higher education/occupation scores were associated with higher levels of cognition. Higher levels of mid/late-life cognitive activity were also associated with higher levels of cognition, but the slope of this association slightly increased over time. Lifetime intellectual enrichment might delay the onset of cognitive impairment and be used as a successful preventive intervention to reduce the impending dementia epidemic.
Steve Zanon says
This study is great step in the right direction. The reality of an Alzheimer’s Disease drug or vaccine is decades away at best and if one happens to be found in the future it won’t be able to repair the damage already done. That will need to be part of an active rehabilitation or relearning process – rebuilding lost cognitive capacity. So how do we help or BETTER YET help prevent or slow down the next generation (20+ years) of MCI and dementia suffers ? Part of the answer lies in studies like this one.
Alzheimer’s disease is a 30–40 year progressive and chronic disease – it doesn’t just happen like a switch. The real question then is why prevention activities and cognitive reserve are studied with less priority than a potential future pharmaceutical. We know that autopsies have shown that the progress of the Alzheimer’s pathology and the progress of dementia symptoms are NOT always aligned. Refer “The Nun Study”, amongst others. Some of this particular cohort had significant Alzheimer’s pathology at autopsy and NO dementia symptoms. The gap between pathology and symptoms is referred to as Cognitive Reserve and we broadly know the lifestyle parameters that build it up over time.
Given that we know the lifestyle interventions for dementia risk reduction just like we do for cardiovascular risk reduction. Why are we not actively refining these Cognitive Reserve parameters with longitudinal studies and getting some quick wins on the board measured in years not decades ? Slowing disease symptoms for even a few years is a big achievement in Quality of Life and will save a massive amount of health care costs.
This study refers to 8.7 years of potential delay – that’s around 10–15% of the lifespan, depending on the country in which you live. At one Sharpbrains conference several years ago one scientist mentioned that if we could delay the disease by 10 years then dementia ceases to become one of our major health concerns. Why then is the bulk of the research effort and money going toward a pharmaceutical cure ahead of attempting to incrementally get to 5–10 years of symptom delay ?
In 2010 The Boston Consulting Group reported on the massively decreasing productivity of drug R&D, which has been in steady decline since the 1950’s. The cost of each New Molecular Entity (NME) approved by the FDA has gone up well over 50 times over that period and it continues to rise. Given what we already know about Cognitive Reserve it just doesn’t make economic sense to prioritise long term pharmaceutical clinical trials over longitudinal lifestyle research.
One conversation we should be having is around the extending retirement age and the Occupational Health and Safety issues of cognitive decline. This is an issue for TODAY not one for decades time. Insurance companies are already looking into this and we really need to get onto the front foot with wellness programs (prevention activities) delivered in the workplace from mid life.
Our muscular-skeletal and cardiovascular systems decline with age – so too does our nervous system, which includes our brains. None of us are immune from this. We ignore the issue at our peril. However there is much we can actively do to delay the rate of that decline – exercise both physical and mental helps build reserve capacity. There are no guarantees in life, and that includes pharmaceuticals, but we can all better manage our health risks. I hope that our scientists can help us out a little more with that.
The increasing prevalence of dementia is happening right now and this study is great step in the right direction. We need many more studies that further refine these lifestyle parameters and more importantly public awareness campaigns that promote the things we know so far. Let’s look more deeply into the incremental steps forward in public health outcomes.