Los Angeles Times (September 1, 2010): For the Intellectually Active, Alzheimer's Diagnosis Begins a Steep Slide

Publication Date: 
Wed, 09/01/2010

The vaulted protection that intellectually active adults get from Alzheimer's disease has a dark downside, a study released Wednesday has found. Once dementia symptoms become evident and Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed in such patients, their mental decline can come with frightening speed.

That finding, published in the journal Neurology, comes from a study of 1,157 Chicago-based seniors who were followed for an average of just over 11 years. Six years after gauging the extent to which the study participants engaged in activities that challenged their mental capacities, researchers from Rush University Medical Center Alzheimer's Disease Center made periodic assessments of the study participants' cognitive health and traced the trajectories of their brain health.

All told, 148 of the participants were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease during the follow-up period, and 395 were found to have mild cognitive impairment - intellectual problems that are less severe than Alzheimer's disease, but which often precede such a diagnosis.

While all participants' mental function showed yearly declines, the steepest downward trajectories belonged to those who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but who had reported high levels of mental engagement at the outset of the study.