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Doing crosswords, playing card games and writing letters in later life ‘may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by up to FIVE YEARS’

  • Experts asked 2,000 older people how long they’d spent doing certain activities
  • People who spent most time keeping brain active developed it at 93, candesartan amlodipine combination on average
  • People who spent less time were found to have Alzheimer’s at average age of 88

Keeping your brain active in later life could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as five years.

This includes playing board games and card games, doing puzzles, reading and writing letters.

A study asked almost 2,000 older people how long they had spent doing these and similar activities in the previous year.

Among those who went on to get dementia, people who spent most time keeping their brain active developed the disease at the age of 93 on average.

Reading and writing letters and playing card games or puzzles in later life may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by up to five years, a study by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has found

People who spent less time on mentally demanding activities were found to have Alzheimer’s at an average age of 88 – five years earlier.

Professor Robert Wilson, lead author of the study from Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, said: ‘The good news is that it’s never too late to start doing the kinds of inexpensive, accessible activities we looked at in our study.

‘Our findings suggest it may be beneficial to start doing these things, even in your eighties, to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.’

The study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at 1,903 people aged 53 to 100.

They were asked how much time they spent reading each day, then six more questions about how active they kept their brain.

In the past year, the volunteers reported how often they had visited a library, read newspapers, magazines and books, written letters and played games or puzzles.

Popular examples included crosswords, chess and card games.

Researchers looked at these mentally challenging activities, because they are believed to strengthen connections in the brain, making people less likely to develop dementia.

If the ‘use it or lose it’ theory of brain activity was correct, those who spent more time keeping their brain active would be diagnosed later.

That proved to be the case among the 497 people in the study who developed dementia, after being given annual tests and check-ups for up to 22 years.

The 10 per cent who scored most highly in the questions on activities like reading and puzzles developed dementia at the age of 93.6 on average.

Those with the 10 per cent lowest scores got it an average of five years earlier.

People who kept their brains active developed Alzheimer’s disease later than those who did so less, even when education, sex, social isolation and loneliness were taken into account.

These can all raise the risk of dementia, so were calculated for the study participants.

Researchers were concerned that people who did less mentally challenging tasks may already have had early dementia.

That might have made it look like people who didn’t do crosswords got Alzheimer’s earlier, when in fact the disease caused them to stop doing crosswords.

However analysis of the brains of 695 people in the study who died showed those who did mental activities less often did not show signs of early dementia.

Professor Wilson said: ‘Our study shows that people who engage in more cognitively stimulating activities may be delaying the age at which they develop dementia.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink. 

More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.


As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost. 

That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason. 

The progress of the disease is slow and gradual. 

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.


  • Loss of short-term memory
  • Disorientation
  • Behavioral changes
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call 


  • Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
  • Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior 
  • Eventually lose ability to walk
  • May have problems eating 
  • The majority will eventually need 24-hour care   

 Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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