ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Lifelong Mental Activity and the Amyloid Plaque of Alzheimer's

Updated on March 14, 2013
Frequent participation in mentally stimulating activities such as playing chess can prevent or delay Alzheimer's disease.
Frequent participation in mentally stimulating activities such as playing chess can prevent or delay Alzheimer's disease. | Source

An Active Mind Delays Alzheimer's

Scientists have long known that people who live their lives undertaking activities that challenge their minds can prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease. In one study, published in the June 2003 issue of "The New England Journal of Medicine," researchers looked at a group of senior citizens aged 75 and older. They found that over the course of 20 years those who frequently read, played board games such as chess, did crossword puzzles, played cards or musical instruments or did other things requiring mental activity, were 66% less likely to get Alzheimer's disease relative to those who were not so mentally active. They further found that physical activity such as walking or climbing stairs had no effect on the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Other studies have confirmed the connection between frequent mental stimulation and delay/prevention of Alzheimer's disease.

Electron micrograph of a section of cerebral cortex showing the amyloid plaque formation of Alzheimer's disease (darkly stained areas).
Electron micrograph of a section of cerebral cortex showing the amyloid plaque formation of Alzheimer's disease (darkly stained areas). | Source
PET scans such as this were used to assay the level of amyloid plaque in the brains of study subjects. Areas in red indicate the presence of plaque deposits.
PET scans such as this were used to assay the level of amyloid plaque in the brains of study subjects. Areas in red indicate the presence of plaque deposits. | Source

Mental Activity and the Accumulation of Amyloid Plaque

Intensive research into the causes and physiology of Alzheimer's disease has revealed the presence of clumps of a sticky substance called amyloid plaque in the brains of people who die of Alzheimer's disease. This plaque arises from the enzymatic breakdown of a large protein in the brain called amyloid precursor protein. Fragments from the breakdown of this protein accumulate as aggregates in the spaces between the nerve cells in the brain. These aggregates become sticky plaques that disrupt the flow of nerve signals from one cell to another leading to the eventual death of nerve cells and the observed symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. A combination of genetic and environmental factors are involved in causing the formation of these amyloid plaques.

Now, scientists have evidence that correlates a person's level of participation in mentally stimulating activities over his/her lifetime with the accumulation of amyloid plaque in the brain. In a paper published online in January 2012 in the "Archives of Neurology," researchers provided data that for the first time links mental activity to the build up of the amyloid plaque of Alzheimer's disease. Study subjects consisted of three groups: 65 healthy adults with an average age of 76, 10 Alzheimer's patients with an average age of 75 and 11 young people (average age 25) to act as a control. The researchers followed the subjects for about five years, and used PET scans to assay plaque accumulation in the brain. The healthy subjects filled out a questionnaire at the beginning of the study in which they detailed their participation in mentally stimulating activities over the course of their lives starting at age 6. When the researchers put the PET scan and questionnaire data together, it became clear that subjects who ranked in the top one-third in terms of amount of participation in mentally stimulating activity had plaque accumulation comparable to the younger controls. Those in the bottom one-third had plaque accumulation comparable to that of the Alzheimer's patients. This connection between greater participation in mentally stimulating activities and significantly lower plaque accumulation was independent of physical activity, gender and level of education.

In commenting on the results of this study, the researchers point out that they believe the effect of mental activity on amyloid plaque levels is greater for people who are active over their whole lifetime, particularly during youth and in middle age. A high level of mental activity starting in old age is not nearly as effective.

Chess and Alzheimer's

Would you consider yourself to be a person with a high level of participation in mentally stimulating activities?

See results

Disclaimer

This hub has been written for the sole purpose of providing information to the reader. It is not intended to be a source of any kind of medical advice or instruction, and it should not be used in the diagnosis of any illness, disease or condition. You should consult your doctor if you have questions about a specific medical problem.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • thesingernurse profile image

      thesingernurse 5 years ago from Rizal, Philippines

      Very well written and explained. I have also read somewhere via the internet that those people who know how to speak several languages also have the tendency to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's Disease and other degenerative mental disorders. However, I am afraid I was not able to get back on that article and completely forgot about it. Hahaha...

      Thank you for sharing this informative hub. Will be sharing this because more people should know about these important research findings.

    • healthwriterbob profile image
      Author

      healthwriterbob 5 years ago from United States

      How are you doing, singernurse? I saw your Valentine's Day hubs, and I will be getting back to you on those later. You make a good point about people who can speak several languages. It is easy to see how this type of ability could have the effect of lessening the accumulation of amyloid plaque later in life. Thanks for your comment, and a special thanks for sharing with your followers. Take care.

      P.S. I got a kick out of the picture that you posted of you and your BF.

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 5 years ago from UK

      Interesting reading, my father-in-law is suffering from Alzheimer's...he is 90 years old and has probably been slowing drifting into it for about 10 years...I will come back and re-read. Thanks for sharing.

    • healthwriterbob profile image
      Author

      healthwriterbob 5 years ago from United States

      Hi leni sands,

      Thanks for your comments. In some people, Alzheimer's does progress very slowly. I read your hub "Dad's Dementia....", and from that I can see how difficult it is for the caregiver of the Alzheimer's patient. Take care and good luck to you.

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 5 years ago from UK

      Thank you healthwriterbob, I will follow your hubs.

    Click to Rate This Article