Keeping your mind active can help delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Keeping your mind active, exercising, and spending social time with family and friends have been suggested as ways to help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The results of a new study led by Dr. Dennis Selkoe, co-director of the Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, now provide scientific reasons for why a mentally stimulating environment, which includes learning new activities, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease occurs when a protein called amyloid beta accumulates and forms plaques in the brain. Amyloid beta build-up is thought to cause memory problems by interfering with brain activity that occurs in the synapses, the spaces between nerve cells that allow communication of information. This interference may lead to a decline in a person’s memory, attention, and the ability to learn, understand, and process information.

In preclinical research, Dr. Selkoe and his team found that prolonged exposure to a stimulating environment activated certain substances known as brain adrenalin receptors. These activated receptors helped prevent amyloid beta protein isolated from the brains of AD patients from weakening the communication between nerve cells in the brain’s “memory center,” the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays an important role in both short- and long-term memory.  The researchers also found that exposing the brain to new activities provided greater protection against Alzheimer’s disease than did aerobic exercise alone.

“This part of our work suggests that prolonged exposure to a richer, more novel environment beginning even in middle age might help protect the hippocampus from the bad effects of amyloid beta, which gradually builds up to toxic levels in one hundred percent of Alzheimer patients,” said Selkoe.

So take up a new hobby, learn a new language, or sign up for a class at your local community college. Someday soon it could be just what the doctor ordered for a healthy brain.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and memory:

– Jamie R.

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