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June 26, 2005

Alzheimer’s and Crossword Puzzles

We’ve all heard it.  Doing crossword puzzles will prevent Alzheimer’s.  There are many people who know this to be true.  They’ll tell you it’s been proven.  Well, as much as I’d love to believe it, and even though there have been some promising studies, the fact is the jury is still deliberating.

I’ve been skeptical about the crossword prevention claims for quite awhile, actually.  Consider Ronald Reagan.  He had a very active mind.  He wrote thousands of letters over his lifetime.  Writing is a very cognitive activity – choosing the right words, phrasing things just right – it’s a very mentally active endeavor.  And he came down with Alzheimer’s.  Certainly, we can’t reject the crossword prevention claims based on the experience of one person, but I would suggest we don’t get too optimistic that just because we’re doing crossword puzzles today we won’t be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s tomorrow.

“We go around saying, ‘Well, it can’t hurt to do crossword puzzles.’ There is a way it can hurt,” says Margaret Gatz, professor of psychology at the University of Southern California.  “The way it can hurt is if we start blaming the people who are demented for not exercising their brains enough, or overselling activities that could make a difference where it’s really unsubstantiated.  I think we have got to be real careful in our messages about risk reduction.”

Last week in Philadelphia the Alzheimer’s Association held its 1st International Conference on Prevention of Dementia.  There were some interesting, and conflicting, things that came out of it.

According to Dr. John Morrison, Mount Sinai Medical Center, prevention is the key.  Eating fruits and vegetables containing antioxidants and exercise may help prevent the illness.  So may keeping up with friends.  Social interactions tend to fall off with age, and that may increase the risk of the disease.  One study found that people who drink fruit and vegetable juices three times a week versus just once may reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by 75%!

Another study showed that taking care of your teeth may be the key.  Researchers studied sets of twins in which one twin developed Alzheimer’s and the other didn’t.  They found that the twin with Alzheimer’s was four times more likely to have had gum disease by middle age.  Previous studies have also linked inflammation to heart disease and stroke risk.

Unlike previous studies, the researchers did not find education to be a strong factor in predicting risk of dementia.  They found that mental activities at age 40, like reading or attending cultural events, did not appear to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the lessons to be learned from this?  Well, I’m going to continue doing the following:

  1. Taking care of my teeth.

  2. Drinking V8 and OJ along with three or four other servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

  3. Exercising every day – both aerobic and strengthening exercising.

  4. And, yes, I’ll continue doing crossword puzzles everyday - not because they’ll prevent Alzheimer’s but because I enjoy them.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled and my ears open and whatever I hear regarding the crossword puzzle-Alzheimer’s connection I’ll pass on to you.

May 26, 2005 Sudoku

May 1, 2005 Spell-check

April 16, 2005 Frequency

April 7, 2005 Keyhole

March 19, 2005 A New Champion

March 12, 2005 More Great Links

March 1, 2005 Chicken Strata ala King

February 23, 2005 Solution!

February 21, 2005 Letter Rip?

February 12, 2005 Spelling Bee

February 1, 2005 A 75th Anniversary

January 29, 2005 Video Google

January 22, 2005 Unexpected Pleasures

January 4, 2005 Invisible Ink

January 1, 2005 Let The Adventure Begin

Paul Stynsberg, © 2004