Hobbies Can Help Against Alzheimer's
March 5, 2001
WASHINGTON (AP) - Adults with hobbies that exercise their
brains - such as reading, jigsaw puzzles or chess - are
2 1/2 times less likely to have Alzheimer's disease, while
leisure limited to TV watching may increase the risk, a
A survey of people in their 70s showed that those who
regularly participated in hobbies that were intellectually
challenging during their younger adult years tended to
be protected from Alzheimer's disease. The finding supports
other studies showing that brain power unused is brain
The study is also more bad news for the couch potato,
said Dr. Robert P. Friedland, first author of the research
appearing Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy
"Television watching is not protective and may even
be a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease," said Friedland,
an associate professor of neurology at Case Western Reserve
University School of Medicine and member of the medical
staff at University Hospitals of Cleveland.
Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, senior medical adviser to the
Alzheimer's Association, said the study is important because
it supports other research showing that the onset of Alzheimer's
is delayed by education and by intellectually demanding
In the study, Friedland and his co-authors analyzed the
leisure activities in young and middle adulthood of 193
Alzheimer's patients and of 358 controls, people who did
not have symptoms of the disease. All the participants
were in their 70s when the survey was conducted.
The information about the Alzheimer's patients was gathered
from family and friends, while the others were interviewed
The researchers gathered information on how the subjects
spent their leisure time during their early adulthood,
age 20 to 39, and during their middle adulthood, age 40
to 60. The survey centered on three types of activities:
Passive, such as watching television, talking on the phone
or listening to music.
Intellectual, such as reading, jigsaw or crossword puzzles,
playing musical instruments, chess or other board games,
knitting or woodwork.
Physical, such as baseball, football or other sports, bike
riding, swimming, walking or skating.
"The Alzheimer's patients were less active in all
these activities except for television watching," said
Intellectual activities seemed particularly protective,
he said, noting that those whose leisure centered on mind-challenging
hobbies were about 2 1/2 times less likely to develop Alzheimer's.
Friedland said that the effect comes from activities between
the ages of 20 to 60. He said the results were adjusted
for the known beneficial effects on Alzheimer's of education
and intellectually demanding professions. No matter the
profession or the amount of education, he said, there still
was a beneficial effect.
Intellectual stimulation in early and middle adulthood
does not absolutely protect against Alzheimer's in late
adulthood, said Friedland, but the activities could delay
the disease for years.
"The brain is an organ just like every other organ
in the body. It ages in regard to how it is used," he
said. "Just as physical activity strengthens the heart,
muscles and bones, intellectual activity strengthens the
brain against disease."
It's believed, he said, that healthier brain cells are
better able to control or slow the Alzheimer's process,
Zhachaturian said the effect seems to be that brain-challenging
activities "build up a reserve" of neuron connections.
Because of this reserve, said Zhachaturian, it takes longer
for the Alzheimer's process to destroy enough neurons for
there to be identifiable symptoms.
"Intellectual stimulation may delay the onset," said
Zhachaturian. "There is no evidence, however, that
it will actually alter the disease course."
But delaying the disease onset, he said, could give many
more years of rational life for people who eventually develop
Alzheimer's disease is a fatal, brain-destroying disorder
that is generally diagnosed after the age of 60. The disease
progressively destroys memory and eventually, the ability
to care for oneself. There are millions around the world
diagnosed, but that number is expected to jump populations
in many countries age.
The formation in the brain of protein-based plaques that
destroy neurons or brain cells has been identified as the
prime disease process, but no cure has been found.
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.