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Leisure Activity May Lower Alzheimer Risk


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Reading, going to the movies, walking and other leisure activities may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, according to the results of a new study.

Staying active is no guarantee that a person will not develop Alzheimer's, but leisure activities do seem to at least delay symptoms of the disease, the study's lead author told Reuters Health in an interview.

``Elderly people who engaged in more leisure activities had a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease'' in this study, said Dr. Yaakov Stern of Columbia University in New York.

After taking into account factors such as ethnicity, education and occupation, Stern and his colleagues found that elderly people who engaged in several leisure activities had a 38% lower risk of developing dementia.

Reading, visiting with friends or relatives, going to the movies or restaurants and walking for pleasure were several of the activities that were most strongly linked to a reduced risk of dementia, the researchers report in the December 26th issue of the journal Neurology.

Intellectual activities, such as reading, had the greatest impact on reducing the risk of Alzheimer's symptoms, but social and physical activities also had significant effects, the report indicates.

Still, staying active does not guarantee that a person will not develop Alzheimer's disease, Stern cautioned.

``We don't think that people who are more active will never get it,'' he said. Instead, it is possible that very active people are better able to deal with Alzheimer's-related changes in the brain, Stern explained. Whether these changes lead to noticeable symptoms may be influenced by leisure activities, according to the New York researcher.

The appearance of dementia may depend ``on how well the brain copes'' with changes caused by Alzheimer's, he said. Stern noted that higher educational level has been shown to have a similar effect as leisure activities.

Should people start leisure activities to protect themselves from Alzheimer's? According to Stern, there is no way to know whether adding more activities will help prevent the disease.

It is possible, he pointed out, that participation in fewer leisure activities may reflect the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease.

But ``it's great to be active,'' Stern said, noting that leisure activities may bring health benefits other than protecting against dementia.

Stern and his colleagues based the findings on 1,772 people aged 65 and older living in New York City.

At the start of the study none of the participants had dementia symptoms. By the end of up to 7 years of follow-up, 207 had developed dementia--most with ``probable'' or ``possible'' Alzheimer's disease.

SOURCE: Neurology 2001;57:2236-2242.


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