Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Another Plus for Reading

Let's spend Tuesday morning with a subject that strikes fear into the heart of many--Alzheimer's Disease. This condition has become prevalent enough that even if you don't know someone personally who is suffering from the disease, you know someone who knows someone who is. It can be a dark spectre hanging over our heads as we grow older--will we be one of those who get this disease?

A study released last week has some good news for all of us. While Alzheimer's cannot yet be cured, scientists are finding evidence that it can be prevented. And that preventative method should start now, when we are younger.

"Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and memory loss in adults, particularly those above the age of 60. It is thought to be caused by an accumulation of a particular protein called amyloid in the brain. Most normal people have a small amount of this protein in their brain, and it is thought that the accumulation over one’s lifetime that may result in the disease."

What did the study find seemed to have kept amyloid levels low in older, healthy adults? "They found that people who did more reading, writing, and game playing over the course of their lifetime have less of this brain protein, which may mean lower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease."

“Your lifestyle over the course of your lifetime may be critical in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” University of California-Berkeley researcher and study author Dr. Susan Landau said.
"They found that people who did more reading, writing, and game playing over the course of their lifetime have less of this brain protein, which may mean lower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Landau explains that game playing can be anything that stimulates the brain — whether it is a game of Sudoku, a crossword puzzle or even Angry Birds."

In addition, Dr. Samuel Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, said: " physical exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is 'conceivable that the benefits of physical exercise are partially or wholly due to the increased brain activity used to control muscles.”'

There you have it: a good reason for getting you and your kids to the library and encouraging reading on a steady basis. A good reason for encouraging kids to write and yes, to play games that stimulate the brain. A good reason to make physical exercise a part of our lives. May sound a little strange, but that old prescription reading "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning" should now be "Read two chapters in a book and you won't have to call me in the morning."


Anonymous said...

These are all population statistics. Unfortunately everyone knows someone who was a brilliant intellectual who used their mind and still developed dementia. Of course, the recommendations can't hurt.

JS said...

Have to agree with anonymous. These recommendations may help on average, but they're no guarantee.

That said, I'd estimate this disease will likely be treatable within the next 10-15 years given the progress being made.

ProfK said...


Need to be careful in using the term dementia. There are 170 diseases that qualify as dementia, with Alzheimer's being one of them. So all Alzheimer's patients are suffering from dementia but all patients with dimentia are not suffering from Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is not reversible but some other dimentia diseases are. In short, those brilliant people you refer to certainly developed dementia but not necessarily Alzheimer's.

The study referred to in the posting was dealing specifically with Alzheimer's, not dementia in general.

Re the guarantee, We don't have a single treatment or preventative method for any disease that is 100% guaranteed for everyone. There is always going to be a statistical outlier. And if the program of writing/reading/game playing "only" helped prevent anywhere from 60-90% of the the population from getting Alzheimer's, would anyone really say "I'm waiting for something that is 100% guaranteed so I won't try this now."


Trudy said...

You're losing sight JS that what is in the posting is one type of treatment that is available now, not 10-15 years from now. Alzheimer's usually attacks those 60 or older. That means that those in their 40s now should be looking at what the study suggested as a way to possibly prevent them from getting Alzheimer's. 10-15 years from now, if they find a different treatment, it will be too late for those now in their 40s.

Come on people, it's not like trying this is going to cost you money or be dangerous medically. You have nothing to lose, since the reading, writing and game playing will also sharpen your mental skills now, give you knowledge and pleasure now, and help with the life you are living now.

Abba said...

there are some important medication used to treat patients with alzheimers-associated dementia, e.g., aricept and namenda. but they are not cures.

Abba said...

"These recommendations may help on average, but they're no guarantee."

don't be ridiculous. no treatment is "guaranteed." if something helps "on average" compared to no treatment, what's the problem?

JS said...


No one doubts exercise prevents cardiovascular disease, but people who exercise have heart attacks and arteriosclerosis and some people who live sedentary lives consuming junk food live forever.

There's a strong genetic component to a lot of diseases. You can only fight your genes so much.

My point isn't that people shouldn't read and keep their mind sharp - people should do that anyways. My point also isn't that sometimes you can't avoid the inevitable - that's obvious.

The point is that there's a tendency to "blame" people for getting sick. Someone has a heart attack and there are people who assume the person wasn't taking care of themselves - they must have been eating too much fat, too much salt, not enough exercise, etc. It would be a shame if that became the case for diseases like dementia - that people assume the person was a coach potato whose idea of intellectual stimulation was reading the expiration date on the milk carton.

Oftentimes the preventive steps we can take become ways of blaming those who succumb to illness.