Mental Exercise May First Slow and Then Speed Cognitive Decline
Whether you do crosswords or play chess, keeping your brain active may also keep it sharp. But there could be a catch. Though dementia may take longer to appear in avid readers and museum goers than in their less stimulated peers, those who delay the condition's onset might get worse faster once they develop it.
Researchers at Rush made this discovery in a study recently published in the journal Neurology. "Our results suggest that the benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline may come at a cost," says study author Robert Wilson, PhD, neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center. "The question is, ‘Why does this happen?'"
One possible answer, he says, is that mentally stimulating activities may enhance the brain's ability to function relatively well even after the lesions associated with dementia begin to build up. People who engage in such activities may therefore experience more dramatic brain changes — leading to a faster decline — after their symptoms finally appear.
"By compressing the course of dementia, mental activities could reduce the overall amount of time that a person may suffer from the condition," Wilson says. "And that's a good thing."
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