Study strengthens evidence that cognitive activity can reduce dementia risk

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Are there any ways of preventing or delaying the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of age-associated dementia? While several previously published studies have suggested a protective effect for cognitive activities such as reading, playing games, or attending cultural events, questions have been raised about whether these studies reveal a real cause-and-effect relationship or if the associations could result from unmeasured factors. To address this question, a Boston-based research team conducted a formal bias analysis and concluded that, while potentially confounding factors might have affected previous studies’ results, it is doubtful that such factors totally account for observed associations between cognitive activities and a reduced risk of dementia.

“Our paper lends support to a potential role for late-in-life cognitive activity in prevention of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Deborah Blacker M.D., Sc.D., professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the Gerontology Research Unit in the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry, and senior author of the report in the September 2016 issue of the journal Epidemiology. “While it is possible that socioeconomic factors such as educational level might contribute to the association between cognitive activity and reduced risk, any bias introduced by such factors is probably not strong enough to fully account for the observed association.”

Blacker and her colleagues from Harvard Chan School maintain a database cataloging evidence from observational studies and some clinical trials about known and proposed risk and protective factors for the devastating neurologic disorder.