Leisure activity may lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease.





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Alzheimer's is a debilitating disease that causes severe degeneration of brain tissue. Plaque deposits accumulate in the spaces between brain cells. The cells themselves form twisted, spaghetti-like masses called "neurofibrillary tangles." Why these changes happen in the brains of some people but not others remains a matter of speculation. Scientists are unsure as to which of these abnormalities occurs first, the plaque or the tangles. What triggers them in the first place is not known for certain.

In its beginning stages, Alzheimer's can be a difficult disease to spot; the changes in memory and behavior are barely noticeable at first. The disease may worsen within the first several years or take as long as twenty to progress. Average survival time after diagnosis is generally four to eight years. Memory loss gradually worsens, along with a decline in ability to perform routine daily tasks. Late stage Alzheimer's sufferers experience increasing disorientation, impaired judgment, personality changes, difficulty in learning, and a loss of language skills. As yet, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Current studies have been able to associate a higher degree of education and occupation with a lower incidence of dementia. Recently published in the journal of Neurology, a new study examined the relationship linking dementia occurrence and leisure activity. The individuals involved in this study included 1,772 people ages 65 years or older, and who were living in New York City. Among leisurely activity, neurologic and neuropsychological measurements, and incident of dementia were taken at baseline and also up to 7 years. After modifications for race, age, education, and occupation, 207 individuals had dementia. The outcome showed that the relative risk for dementia was decreased by high amounts of leisure activity by 38%. The authors concluded, " the data suggest that engagement in leisure activities may reduce the risk of incident dementia, possibly by providing a reserve that delays the onset of clinical manifestations of the disease."1


1. Scarmeas N, et al. Influence of leisure activity on the incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease. Neurology. Dec 2001;57:2236-2242.