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Active Cognitive Lifestyle Lowers Dementia Risk

Update Date: Apr 29, 2012 02:55 AM EDT

The protective effects of an active cognitive lifestyle arise through multiple biological pathways, a new study found. 

For some time researchers have been aware of a link between what we do with our brains and the long term risk for dementia. In general, those who are more mentally active or maintain an active cognitive lifestyle (CLS)  throughout their lives are at lower risk. 

"Our results suggest that increased engagement in stimulating activities are part of a lifestyle that is, overall, more healthy," commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

Researchers used data from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study, a large population-based study in the United Kingdom. At the time of this study, brains were compared based on the individual's dementia status at death — yes or no — and cognitive lifestyle score, or CLS — low, middle, or high.

The three CLS groups did not differ among multiple Alzheimer's disease neuropathology measures. This means that cognitive lifestyle seems to have no effect on the brain changes typically seen in those with Alzheimer's disease.

However, an active cognitive lifestyle in men was associated with less cerebrovascular disease, in particular disease of the brain's microscopic blood vessels. An active cognitive lifestyle in women was associated with greater brain weight. In both men and women, high CLS was associated with greater neuronal density and cortical thickness in the frontal lobe. 

"Rather than specifically protecting the health of activated circuits, it seems that a more active lifestyle has general effects on brain health reflected in greater neuronal density and preservation of the blood supply to the brain, " said Valenzuela. "Overall, our research suggests that multiple complex brain changes may be responsible for the 'use it or lose it' effect." 

With a globally aging society and the risk of dementia increasing significantly with age, dementia-prevention strategies are of rising importance. Understanding the mechanisms of cognitive enhancement can help support and inform the development of effective strategies to enrich cognitive lifestyle and potentially reduce dementia risk.

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