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Alzheimer’s trade-off for mentally active seniors

Stimulation delays cognitive decline, but disease advances quickly once it starts

3:59pm, September 1, 2010

Mental exercise lets seniors outrun Alzheimer’s disease — for a while. Then the race takes a tragic turn for the sharp-minded, a new study finds, as declines in memory and other thinking skills kick into high gear.

After age 65, regular participation in mentally stimulating activities, including doing crossword puzzles and reading, delays intellectual decay caused by Alzheimer’s disease, say neuropsychologist Robert Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and his colleagues. But when this debilitating condition finally breaks through the defenses of a mentally fortified brain, it rapidly makes up for lost time, the scientists report in a paper published online September 1 in Neurology.

“The benefit of delaying initial signs of cognitive decline by keeping mentally active may come at the cost of more rapid dementia progression later on,” Wilson says.

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