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Active, Healthy Brain Delays but does not Prevent Alzheimer’s, Study Says

Update Date: Feb 26, 2016 10:27 AM EST

Maintaining a healthy and active brain can effectively delay symptoms of Alzheimer's disease but it will not prevent the onset of the disease, a new study is reporting.

"There's a misconception that if you're mentally or physically active, you can ward off Alzheimer's disease," study's lead author, Prashanthi Vemuri, said reported by the Washington Post.

The research team at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. set out to examine if mental and physical health can affect the symptoms and onset of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia. They analyzed data on 393 participants who were between the ages of 70 and 89. 340 of the participants were considered to have normal cognition whereas the remaining 53 had mild cognitive impairment.

The sample was divided into two groups based on whether or not education levels were above or below 14 years. All of the participants were required to fill out weekly questionnaires about their physical and mental activity levels. MRI and PET scans were used to monitor signs of Alzheimer's. Other factors, such as age and gender, were also accounted for.

The researchers found that overall, mental activity helped slow down cognitive decline. When analyzing the brains of patients with the APOe4 gene, which is linked to Alzheimer's, they found that good levels of mental and physical activity and higher education physically slow down the progression of the disease in the brain

The researchers found that these participants developed amyloid plaques five years later than participants with the APOe4 gene who were not as active or as highly educated. Amyloid plaques are clusters of proteins that can lead to brain cell damage and inflammation.

"People seemed to be able to compensate for the genetic risk if they had higher education," Vemuri said.

The researchers plan on looking for other factors that affect the development of Alzheimer's.

The study's findings were published in the journal, Neurology.

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