Study finds mental stimulation combats Alzheimer’s

Study finds mental stimulation combats Alzheimer's

By Will Dunham1 hour, 57 minutes ago

Just a modest amount of mental stimulation can go a long way toward warding off Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers who created mice genetically modified to get a condition similar to it.

Researchers at the University of California-Irvine studied hundreds of mice altered to make them develop abnormalities known as plaques and tangles in brain tissue that are considered hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease in people.

Writing on Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, they said periodic learning sessions — swimming in a tub of water until finding a submerged platform to stand on — slowed the development in the mice of those two abnormalities.

"The remarkable thing was that just by learning infrequently, they still had a very dramatic effect on the Alzheimer's disease pathology," said Kim Green, one of the researchers.

"So it suggests that in humans, if you learn more and more and more, it's going to have a huge, beneficial effect," Green added.

The findings highlight an idea that also has emerged in other research — that exercising one's mind is important to staving off Alzheimer's disease, the degenerative brain malady that is the most common form of dementia among the elderly.

Green noted that other studies have found that more highly educated people are less likely to develop Alzheimer's than people with less education.

There is no known cure for Alzheimer's, which gradually destroys a person's memory and ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities.


"What we have shown is that by learning, by stimulating your mind, you're able to protect against the development of the pathologies associated with the disease," Green said.

"Crossword puzzles, reading books, learning a new language — anything you can do to stimulate the brain is going to be beneficial, we think," Green added.

Green said the mice were given "a very mild learning experience" — essentially figuring out a maze but in the water — for a week at a time every three months. The sessions were four times daily for a week at 2, 6, 9, 12, 15 and 18 months of age.

The mice that performed the task experienced slower development of the protein beta amyloid clumping in the brain and forming plaques, gooey buildup that accumulates outside nerve cells, the study found.

These mice also experienced a slower buildup of another protein in the brain, hyperphosphorylated-tau, that can lead to the formation of neurofibrillary tangles — twisted fibers in brain cells.

Green said the researchers are looking into whether more frequent and intensive learning sessions might provide bigger and longer-lasting benefits.

Alzheimer's disease first affects parts of the brain controlling memory and thinking. As it advances, it kills cells elsewhere in the brain. Eventually, if the patient has no other serious illness, the loss of brain function will prove fatal.


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