Study says a little brainwork can help beat Alzheimer's

| 7/7/2003

For those who want to avoid Alzheimer’s, try a game of checkers.

A study conducted at the Einstein College of Medicine in New York has found that taking part in activities that stimulate the mind reduces the chances of getting Alzheimer’s or related illnesses in your golden years.

Those activities, according to a summary of the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, include reading, playingboard games – such as chess or checkers – playing bridge, playing musical instruments and dancing.

“In general, things that challenge your brain are things that protect against dementia,” Joe Verghese, the lead researcher on the study, said.

While most physical activities did not help people avoid the mind-sapping illness, dancing was effective, in part because it stimulates the mind as well as the body, the authors of the study, titled “Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly,” wrote.

And while many truckdrivers may regard keeping that big rig on the road as challenging, Verghese was not sure if that activity alone would achieve the results he saw for other mental activities.

“We didn’t actually look at driving,” Joe Verghese, the lead researcher on the study, said. “I would think that driving by itself wouldn’t be mentally challenging enough.”

However, driving combined with some other activities could achieve the effect described in the study. For example, driving while listening to an education tape or an audio book.

Verghese said the study differed from other medical research in that it didn’t look for risk factors of things that are bad for you – his study looked for things that are “good for your brain as opposed to things that are bad.”

The study showed that even a small amount of mental activity was better for patients than not having any at all, Verghese said. However, like mustard on a sandwich, if a little is good, more is better. The more time older adults spend in mental activity, the better their brains do.

However, don’t think you can just sit in front of the tube.

“It depends on what kind of TV,” Verghese said. “I imagine that seeing education programs, or if you’re watching TV as part of a self-education process, watching PBS and trying to learn more about nature or other such things, then it might have some benefit.

“But then again, just sitting on the couch doesn’t help.”

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at