In hopes of staving off Alzheimer’s or other dementias, we seek crosswords for mental stimulation, we make it a point to exercise, we down various supplements.
But guess what — any proof that any of it actually works is lacking.
An independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health reported that the value of these strategies at delaying the onset or reducing the severity of decline or disease hasn’t been demonstrated in rigorous studies. No evidence of even moderate scientific quality supports Alzheimer’s risk reduction through dietary supplement intake, use of prescription or non-prescription drugs, diet, exercise, or social engagement, they say.
“Alzheimer’s disease is a feared and heart-breaking disease,” Dr. Martha L. Daviglus, says in a news release. The panel’s chair, she is a professor of preventive medicine and medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago. “We wish we could tell people that taking a pill or doing a puzzle every day would prevent this terrible disease, but current evidence doesn’t support this.”
Neil Buckholtz from the National Institute on Aging told National Public Radio that “doing crossword puzzles, Sudoku, those kinds of things — they’re interesting, but the evidence is not available at this point that they actually have an effect.” Evenso, many Alzheimer’s researchers say such mental exercise seems like a good idea, since it increases connections in the brain and makes the brain more resilient.
It’s certainly not going to hurt.
Now consider: do people stay mentally sharp as they age because they are physically active and socially engaged? Or are they physically active and socially engaged because they are mentally sharp? Daviglus says that’s a chicken-or-egg quandary and that such association only tells us the two things are related and not necessarily that one causes the other.
It’s the same with some other associations the panel found, between cognitive decline and diabetes, depression, and smoking.