Keeping the brain active by playing games, reading and writing throughout your life is being linked by US researchers to lowering levels of a brain protein involved in Alzheimer's.
The evidence from the University of California, Berkeley says that people should 'use it or lose it' when it comes to their brainpower. Because ongoing daily activities could delay age-related memory loss in later life.
Experts discovered that those who have kept their brains active - from young age to senior old age - have reduced levels of beta amyloid protein, which apparently forms a major part of plaques in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers.
In Britain today, around 700,000 people have Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia.
One of the key characteristics of the disease is damage to brain cells caused by tiny fragments of protein called beta amyloid plaques. These clump together and stick to neurons, or nerve cells, in the brain, stopping the cells from talking to each other, which disrupts memory, mood and behaviour.
The report from the University of California, Berkeley announced that:
U.S. researchers investigated beta amyloid protein levels in 65 healthy older people aged 76 years, using PET scans and radioactive tags that attached to the protein, and their levels of cognitive activity using lifestyle questionnaires.
These were compared with results from 10 patients with Alzheimer's aged around 75 years and 11 healthy young people, aged 25 years.
They found lower levels of amyloid deposited in the brains of people involved in cognitively stimulating activities throughout their lives, such as reading, writing and playing games.
Researchers used PET scans and lifestyle questionnaires to formulate the study
This was especially marked for people who were 'brain active' in their early and middle years, says a report in the journal Archives of Neurology.
Older people with the highest level of brain activity had amyloid levels on a par with young people, and much lower than Alzheimer's patients.
People with the lowest levels of brain activity had amyloid levels on a par with Alzheimer's patients.
Lead researcher Susan Landau, of the University of California, Berkeley, said: 'We report a direct association, suggesting that lifestyle factors found in individuals with high cognitive engagement may prevent or slow deposition of beta amyloid, perhaps influencing the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease.
'Cognitive activity is just one component of a complex set of lifestyle practices linked to Alzheimer's disease risk,' she added.
'However, the present findings extend previous findings that link cognitive stimulation and Alzheimer's disease risk.'
Previous research suggested the protective effect of mind-stretching activities against dementia may come from maintaining the brain's ability to process information.