Education, Work May Reduce Alzheimer's Effects
> 10/22/2008 7:38:00 PM

Alzheimer’s disease acts by diminishing or eliminating the millions of neuro-connections that make up our working minds. The process occurs gradually and its early symptoms may seem like nothing but occasional evidence of a hazy memory. But active minds, like well-developed muscles, remain more resilient in the face of neurological decline. An Italian study published in the journal Neurology suggests that a busy brain, trained by ongoing education and stimulated by gainful employment, actually faces a lower risk of developing the dementia and brain damage common to Alzheimer’s. 

Researchers gathered nearly 500 Milanese subjects sorted by degree of disorder: 242 confirmed Alzheimer’s cases, 73 with mild cognitive impairment and 144 unaffected. After receiving standard cognitive exams and brain scans, subjects went about their lives under the observation of project researchers for a period of approximately 14 months. During the study’s breadth, 21 of the mildly impaired subjects developed full Alzheimer’s, reinforcing the fact that slight deficiencies usually precede the disease itself.   

The study’s most significant finding: subjects with more extensive educations and “mentally demanding” high-level jobs showed less evidence of the neurological damage (brain shrinkage, excessive white matter) characterizing Alzheimer’s. A near-inverse correlation between degrees of physical decline and levels of academic and professional accomplishment appeared among subjects grouped together by cognitive test scores. This trend, interestingly, held true among both the confirmed Alzheimer’s group and the group who developed the disease over the course of the study. Researchers believe their findings to be evidence of a “cognitive reserve,” or neurological buffer, guarding against the more extreme symptoms of the disease (particularly those visible on a brain scan). Their data indicates that this buffer may be strengthened by the intellectual exercises of higher education and challenging work pursuits, but the science behind the trend remains unfortunately elusive. While some researchers suggest that the genetic proclivities leading to academic and professional success also create a more resilient cognitive faculty, the hypothesis remains just that. 

Conclusions? Ongoing logical and intellectual challenges appear to strengthen the cognitive equivalent of the immune system, leaving engaged minds less susceptible to the influence of Alzheimer’s and dementia. How, then, can one keep the grey matter taut? Another recent study names internet activity as a cognitive stimulant for the middle-aged, noting that web-savvy adults subject to live brain scans exhibited a wider range of neurological activity while surfing the net than reading a text, an act which primarily stimulates the visual cortex. Is web-browsing more intellectually stimulating than delving into a good book? Almost certainly not. But the internet does appear, in some ways, to double as a home gym for the brain. Please continue to click away.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy