Playing chess, bridge or a musical instrument significantly lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia, according to the most comprehensive study to examine the benefits of challenging intellectual activity among the elderly.
Seniors who regularly engaged in pastimes that stretched their minds -- sorry, watching TV doesn't count -- lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias by up to 75 percent compared with those who didn't exercise their minds, researchers said Wednesday.
The report bolsters a growing body of evidence that exercising the mind through board games, social activities and education offers powerful protection against mental deterioration and disease.
"I see a lot of elderly patients -- a lot come with memory complaints," said Joe Verghese, a neurologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, who led the study team. "They have so-called senior moments -- they go in a room and forget why they are there. One thing I advise is for them to increase their participation in cognitively stimulating activities."
Some mental activity appears to be better than none, Verghese said. And the more hours seniors spent doing challenging tasks, the more protection they got against brain decline. The day may be near, he said, when doctors recommend a game of chess and the daily crossword along with physical exercise and a healthy diet.
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