It used to be that daily mental activity was seen as a free lunch in terms of helping to delay dementia. This certainly has an intuitive appeal: exercising your brain will keep it healthy. It also sort of seems fair, in a way, that those who use their brains the most are less likely to lose the capacity to, well, use their brains, just as those who have a more physical lifestyle maintain their physical strength longer in life. However, new research suggests that things may not be so simple, nor so rosy for the thinking man:
According to Wilson, mentally stimulating activities may somehow enhance the brain’s ability to function relatively normally despite the buildup of lesions in the brain associated with dementia. However, once they are diagnosed with dementia, people who have a more mentally active lifestyle are likely to have more brain changes related to dementia compared to those without a lot of mental activity. As a result, those with more mentally active lifestyles may experience a faster rate of decline once dementia begins.
Before you replace Marginal Revolution with TMZ on your RSS feed and commit yourself to a life of not thinking, keep in mind that mental exercises do still appear to delay dementia, it’s just that once onset occurs it comes quicker.