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Brain Bank

August 4, 2009

According to a new study published in the current issue of Neurology, if you engage in activities that exercise the brain now, you may delay the rapid memory decline that occurs if you develop dementia later. The study involved 488 people age 75 to 85 who did not have dementia at the start of the study and were followed for an average of five years during which time 101 developed the disease. At the beginning of the study, people reported how often they participated in six leisure activities that engage the brain: reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing board or card games, having group discussions and playing music. For each activity, daily participation was rated at 7 points, several days a week was rated at 4 points and weekly participation was rated at 1 point. The average total for those who later developed dementia was 7 points, meaning they took part in one of the six activities each day, on average. The researchers then looked at the point when memory loss started accelerating rapidly for the participants. They found that for every additional activity a person participated in, the onset of rapid memory loss was delayed by 0.18 years. "The point of accelerated decline was delayed by 1.29 years for the person who participated in 11 activities per week compared to the person who participated in only 4 activities per week," said study author Charles B. Hall, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY. "The effect of these activities in late life appears to be independent of education. These activities might help maintain brain vitality. Further studies are needed to determine if increasing participation in these activities could prevent or delay dementia."