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Mental stimulation confirmed as viable Alzheimer's prevention strategy

March 11, 2013

Most senior health experts recognize that keeping your mind and body active is one of the most effective ways to ward off Alzheimer's disease and other cognitive disorders, but have not been exactly sure how this happens. However, new research published in the journal Neuron offers some insight into why mental and physical activity is tied to improved brain health.

The study was performed by scientists at Brigham and Women's Center for Neurologic Diseases who analyzed how prolonged exposure to an enriched environment impacted the cognitive health of mice. Specifically, they were interested in looking at adrenaline-related brain receptors, which are known to prevent the development of plaques associated with Alzheimer's. The team found that exposing the mice to a novel environment helped facilitate communication between neurons and even had a greater impact than physical activity alone.

"This work helps provide a molecular mechanism for why a richer environment can help lessen the memory-eroding effects of the build-up of amyloid beta protein with age," said study leader Dr. Dennis Selkoe. "They point to basic scientific reasons for the apparent lessening of AD risk in people with cognitively richer and more complex experiences during life."

The results add further evidence to suggest that active senior living, whether it includes volunteering, continuing education or working in retirement, is one of the most important aspects of healthy aging. The findings also echo previous studies, including one released earlier this year from the United Kingdom. There, researchers found that exercise may be able to slow the progression of memory loss in people who have already been diagnosed with the condition.

Alzheimer's remains one of the most significant threats to healthy aging. According to the Alzheimer's Association, an estimated 5.4 million Americans currently have the condition.