Doing Crossword Puzzles May Keep the Mind Sharp, for a Time
Mentally stimulating activities like doing crossword puzzles, reading and visiting museums may slow the decline of thinking skills with advancing age and delay the onset of Alzheimerâ€™s disease and other forms of dementia, according to a new report. But the benefits may not be permanent. Once Alzheimerâ€™s is diagnosed, the course of the disease may be more rapid in those who were more mentally active. The findings appeared in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
â€œOur results suggest that the benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline may come at the cost of more rapid dementia progression later on,â€ said study author Robert S. Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Researchers are not sure why doing crossword puzzles and other challenging tasks may delay the symptoms of Alzheimerâ€™s. One theory is that mentally stimulating activities enhance the brainâ€™s circuitry, enriching communication between brain cells involved in thinking and memory. Despite the accumulation of the plaques and tangles that can damage the brain and lead to Alzheimerâ€™s, enough healthy brain connections might remain to keep the brain working normally.
But once memory loss has become severe and a diagnosis of Alzheimerâ€™s is made, those who engaged in active mental activities and learning may tend to have accumulated more damage to brain cells (without showing symptoms) than those who were less mentally challenged. Therefore, those who stayed mentally active also tended to deteriorate more rapidly than their less mentally challenged peers, once increased brain reserve was overwhelmed by the disease.
Dr. Wilson noted that mental activities compress the time period that a person spends with dementia, delaying its start and then speeding up its progress. â€œThis reduces the overall amount of time that a person may suffer from dementia,â€ he said.
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