Cognitive activity can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, says a Harvard research

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Cognitive activity

Are there any ways of preventing or delaying the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of age-associated dementia?

Several previously published studies have suggested a protective effect for cognitive activities such as reading, playing games or attending cultural events.

However, questions have been raised about whether these studies reveal a real cause-and-effect relationship or if the associations could result from unmeasured factors.

To address this question, a Boston-based research team conducted a formal bias analysis and concluded that there may be a causal relation between cognitive activities and reduced risk of dementia.

The finding is published in the journal Epidemiology. Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted the research.

They analyzed findings from a database on the Alzheimer’s Research Forum and conducted a systematic review of studies examining the impact of cognitive activity.

The research team analyzed 12 peer-reviewed epidemiologic studies that examined the relationship between late-in-life cognitive activities and the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

The studies were selected on the basis of prespecified criteria for the AlzRisk database. They included almost 14,000 individual participants and consistently showed a benefit, sometimes substantial, for cognitive activity.

Any observational studies are likely to be confounded by unmeasured factors – such as participants’ socioeconomic level or health conditions like depression.

To clarify the confound effects, the researchers also conducted a bias analysis designed to evaluate how much such factors might influence reported associations between the amount of cognitive activity and dementia risk.

This analysis showed that these unmeasured factors were unlikely to account for all of the association.

This finding supports a potential role for late-in-life cognitive activity in prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers suggest that while it is possible that socioeconomic factors such as education might contribute to the association between cognitive activity and reduced risk, cognitive activity may play a real role to reduce the disease risk.

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Citation: Sajeev G, et al. (2016). Late-life Cognitive Activity and Dementia. Epidemiology, 27: 732. DOI: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000000513.
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