Lifelong brain-stimulating habits linked to lower Alzheimer’s protein levels

A new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, provides even more reason for people to read a book or do a puzzle, and to make such activities a lifetime habit.

Brain scans revealed that people with no symptoms of Alzheimer’s who engaged in cognitively stimulating activities throughout their lives had fewer deposits of beta-amyloid, a destructive protein that is the hallmark of the disease.

While previous research has suggested that engaging in mentally stimulating activities – such as reading, writing and playing games – may help stave off Alzheimer’s later in life, this new study identifies the biological target at play. This discovery could  guide future research into effective prevention strategies.

“These findings point to a new way of thinking about how cognitive engagement throughout life affects the brain,” said study principal investigator Dr. William Jagust,  a professor with joint appointments at UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, the School of Public Health and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Rather than simply providing resistance to Alzheimer’s, brain-stimulating activities may affect a primary pathological process in the disease. This suggests that cognitive therapies could have significant disease-modifying treatment benefits if applied early enough, before symptoms appear.”

An estimated 5.4 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, but the numbers are growing as baby boomers age. Between 2000 and 2008, deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 66 percent, making it the sixth-leading killer in the country. There is currently no cure, but a draft of the first-ever National Alzheimer’s Plan, released this week, revealed that the U.S. government is aiming for effective Alzheimer’s treatments by 2025.

The new study, to be published Monday, Jan. 23, in the Archives of Neurology, puts the spotlight on amyloid – protein fibers folded into tangled plaques that accumulate in the brain. Beta-amyloid is considered the top suspect in the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, so finding a way to reduce its development has become a major new direction of research.’

Read more (UC Berkeley NewsCenter)

By Sarah Yang