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Brain Games May Help Thwart Alzheimer’s: Study

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Worried about Alzheimer’s disease? You may want to finish that game of sudoku before you read this.

Researchers behind a study in this week’s Archives of Neurology say they have a found a link between “brain-stimulating activities” and levels of protein thought to cause Alzheimer’s disease.

“Your lifestyle over the course of your lifetime may be critical in the development of Alzheimer’s disease,” University of California-Berkeley researcher and study author Dr. Susan Landau said.

The Alzheimer’s Association said the study “contains some valuable new data regarding the possible relationship between modifiable lifestyle risk factors and the brain changes that are indicative of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and memory loss in adults, particularly those above the age of 60. It is thought to be caused by an accumulation of a particular protein called amyloid in the brain. Most normal people have a small amount of this protein in their brain, and it is thought that the accumulation over one’s lifetime may result in the disease.

The researchers of this study interviewed 65 healthy people about their reading, writing and game-playing habits throughout their lives starting at age 6. These same adults went through a special brain scanner that can detect amyloid.

They found that people who did more reading, writing and game playing over the course of their lifetime have less of this brain protein, which may mean lower chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Landau explains that game playing can be anything that stimulates the brain -- whether it is a game of sudoku, a crossword puzzle or even Angry Birds.

“There was no emphasis on what games were played, but just at what age and how often people were participating in brain-stimulating activities, including reading, writing and games,” Landau said.

With people living longer than ever before, Alzheimer’s disease is becoming a bigger -- and more common -- problem. So far, most researchers have focused on treating the disease. But studies such as this one may point to ways we can prevent the disease altogether.

Dr. Samuel Gandy, associate director of the Mount Sinai Medical Center Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, said that while the study’s findings seem to make sense, they still “cannot be considered definitive evidence that can be prescribed to patients” and that more robust randomized clinical trials are required.

Gandy said, however, that physical exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and it is “conceivable that the benefits of physical exercise are partially or wholly due to the increased brain activity used to control muscles.”

So should we all join the sudoku trend?

While the study emphasizes that these results pertain to a lifetime's worth of brain stimulation, most experts believe that it is never too late to get active.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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