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June 2001
Vol. 4, No. 6, p 13.
news in brief

Activity and Alzheimer’s

Statistical statement.
Statistical statement. Probability of membership in the Alzheimer’s group (case group)as a function of changes in the percentage of total hours per month devoted to intellectual activities from early to middle adulthood.
CHART: PROC. NATL. ACAD. SCI. U.S.A. 2001, 98, 3440–3445

People who are less active in early and middle adulthood are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study done by a group of Cleveland doctors.

Previous work found that educational and occupational accomplishments offer a protective element against Alzheimer’s, possibly because of the neuronal activation they provide. However, little attention has been paid to the effects of recreational tasks. Leisure activities, the researchers said, are a greater reflection of neuronal reserve because they are often more independent of education or economic factors.

This new report found that frequent intellectual, physical, and passive leisure activities are possible preventive measures against the disease (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2001, 98, 3440–3445).

The study, begun in 1991 by researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, used participants from clinical settings and the community. Participants included 193 people with probable Alzheimer’s disease and 358 healthy control-group members. Researchers studied patterns of involvement in intellectual, physical, and passive activities. They collected information from a questionnaire on the participation of the subjects in 26 nonoccupational activities between the ages of 20 and 60.

In all of the categories, healthy control-group members reported performing the activities with more frequency and diversity than the case-group members did. Odds ratios in the study showed that people who were relatively inactive in all three categories had a 250% increased risk of developing the disease.

Differences were most prominent in intellectual activities. An increase in intellectual activity from early adult hood (20–39) to middle adulthood (40–60) was a good predicter of membership in the control group, and vice versa.

The scientists could not exclude the possibility that these findings indicate that midlife inactivity is an early subclinical effect of Alzheimer’s disease rather than a causal risk factor. In either case, though, the study highlights strong links that seem to exist between the neurological disorder and recreational activities, which have previously received little attention. The authors believe that this report will be helpful in establishing public policy initiatives.

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