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Halting or Helping Dementia?

Halting or Helping Dementia?

New research shows that mentally stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles, reading, and listening to the radio may, at first, slow the decline of thinking skills but speed up dementia later in old age. The research is published in the September 1 online issue of the journal Neurology.

"Our 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, but the question is, why does this happen?" said study author Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist, Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center.

According to Wilson, mentally stimulating activities may somehow enhance the brain's ability to function relatively normally despite the buildup of lesions in the brain associated with dementia. However, once they are diagnosed with dementia, people who have a more mentally active lifestyle are likely to have more brain changes related to dementia compared to those without a lot of mental activity. As a result, those with more mentally active lifestyles may experience a faster rate of decline once dementia begins.

Wilson noted that mental activities compress the time period that a person spends with dementia, delaying its start and then speeding up its progress. "This reduces the overall amount of time that a person may suffer from dementia," he said.

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