Suggesting that you can delay or prevent Alzheimer's by doing brain exercises is misleading.

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My husband started getting demenitia at about age 52. He is now 60 and has advanced Alzheimers in spite of everything we've tried.
What upsets me is when experts say you can delay the onset of dementia by doing brain exercises and keeping active. My husband was highly intelligent and ran his own company and exercised all the time, ate healthily etc. No dementia in the family. Nothing we did helped to delay the dementia.
I think telling people if they keep their brains active they won't get dementia is misleading.
Why did an intelligent, active person like Margaret Thatcher get Alzheimers? What more could she have done to keep her brain active?
I really do not believe the advice that doing brain exercises can slow the progression of the disease.
What do others think?


I don't think brain activity will delay or prevent Alz. We don't know what causes it most of the time. In early-onset Alz, such as your husband has, it is a gene. I don't think there is a way to think a gene into submission.

I do wonder why Alz seems to be on the increase. It seems more than just an age-related thing to me. Are people consuming something that is leading to the increase? There are so many possible factors that it is nearly impossible to filter through.

Keeping active mentally and physically and eating right is good for us. They can help prevent stress and depression, which I do believe can be risk factors for dementia through the effect on hormones, e.g. cortisol. Eating right can also help prevent Type II diabetes, which is thought to be a risk factor for dementia, both vascular and Alz. The rest just seems to be chance.

In your husband's case, no, I do not think that anything he could have done would have changed things. I am sorry that this happened to him.
coleen, I agree with you and share your frustration. The notion that keeping your brain active delays or prevents dementia implies that people who get dementia had lazy brains. Ridiculous! This is an oversimplification of the "expert" theory, which in itself is only a theory and does not apply across the board to all types of dementia.

Here is the theory, as I understand it:

As we learn new things or think about things in new ways, we build new pathways in our brains. The more pathways we have, the greater our “reserve” brain power if a pathology strikes. If Lewy body clumps interfere with several pathways, for example, our brains can re-route to other pathways. We keep going, apparently “normal” even though an autopsy might reveal we have early dementia. Eventually the pathology is going to attack enough pathways so that symptoms show.

So learning to play a new piece on your instrument, playing a new board game, trying a new cooking technique, doing crosswords or other puzzles, keeping your brain active, all can build new pathways. This will not prevent dementia from striking, alas, but it may give you more unimpaired time than if you didn’t have so many pathways in your brain.

That is a far cry from claiming that doing crossword puzzles prevents dementia!

Maybe if your husband had been less active his dementia would have shown up even earlier -- age 48, say. Or maybe the theory really doesn't apply to early-onset Alzheimer's. You should definitely not have the additional burden of thinking that there was something you could have/should have done to prevent this horrible outcome.

We know that smoking is a huge risk factor for lung disease, and not smoking reduces our risks. A 50-year-old colleague died of lung cancer this year. She had never smoked in her life. Even if we do everything "right" (or what is thought to be right at our current level of scientific knowledge), we can still develop dreadful diseases. There are no guarantees. This is as true of dementia as it is of lung cancer.

Know this: that dementia struck your smart, active, healthy husband at a very early age was NOT HIS FAULT. That it progressed in a few short years to the severe stage is NOT YOUR FAULT.

The general theory about building up reserve power in our brains may have some useful application. But the flip side that blames the victim has no basis in scientific research and is just plain cruel.
(((((((((((colleen)))))))) I am so sorry. I agree with what jessie and jeanne have written. Dementias like cancers are very complex diseases, and no mold fits all. Some have a genetic basis, and, with cancer, some have a lifestyle component. I think they are still working on that with regards to dementias. I suspect eventually some lifestyle component will be identified with regard to some dementia's, but even that will never give an iron clad guarantee that any individual following the prescribed lifestyle will not get it, My father drank and developed type 2 diabetes and vascular dementia. Others who drink don't, but I suspect, in his case there was a connection. We see heart attacks in athletes, and as jeanne mentioned, lung cancer in non smokers and so on. Any delay of a dementia is no doubt due to, what jeanne describes - the building up of additional pathways as a reserve. Exercising builds up the heart muscle, so it can survive a heart attack better - same concept.
My heart goes out to all of those affected by this dreadful disease, and I hope the ongoing research sheds some significant light on it soon, in terms of prevention/treatment. Meanwhile, a healthy lifestyle is a "good thing" and will contribute to better quality of life, in many cases. It is all we can do, but it will not necessarily prevent disease - as you are experiencing. ((((((hugs)))))) Joan

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