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Marilyn Albert Marilyn Albert as seen on Never Say Die: Use It or Lose It

Click on Marilyn's photo to read a brief bio.

q In your study tracking the physical and mental activities of older people, have you found that any specific activities stand out as being particularly beneficial for keeping the mind and memory sharp? (Question from Ruth G.)

A The mental activities that seem beneficial for maintenance of mental ability are things like: reading books, doing crossword puzzles, going to lectures and concerts. These activities make sense, if you think about it, they are most likely to be mentally challenging and present new information. Watching a lot of TV actually seems to put a person at risk for decline - unless, of course, it is Scientific American Frontiers.

q I would like to know if there is any direct relation between levels of cholesterol in the blood and loss of memory in older adults. Thanks for your kind response. (Question from Juan)

A In the study I discussed on "Never Say Die," we looked at cholesterol levels and found no relation with maintenance of mental abilities. However, if cholesterol levels are so high that an individual develops substantial cardiovascular disease, this can compromise the brain, because the blood supply from the heart effects the brain.

q Are there any general guidelines to help distinguish between "normal" forgetfulness the onset of Alzheimer's in older adults? For example, does forgetting common words one has always used often mean possible Alzheimer's? (Question from Flower)

A Many older people have trouble remembering names, so that trouble with names (unless it is quite pronounced) is not a sign of Alzheimer's disease. Difficulty learning and remembering new information is the most common problem in early Alzheimer's disease. People who have that kind of memory loss start repeating themselves, forgetting recent conversations and the like. If that kind of difficulty starts to happen on a regular basis (daily or weekly) then it is cause for concern. However, it is important to remember that many treatable illnesses can cause similar problems. So if you are concerned about someone you know, they should have a regular medical checkup.

q Is there any evidence that a program of physical and mental activity might benefit patients who have early stages of Alzheimer's disease? (Question from Megan)

A Alzheimer patients who are healthy will always do better than those who have many medical illnesses. But, in general, there is no evidence that being more mentally and physically active than is needed to maintain health is beneficial for Alzheimer's disease. What I generally recommend for a patient with mild or moderate Alzheimer's disease is to emphasize the skills that are still retained. For example, if someone likes to go for walks, or bowl, or dance or sing and they can still do those things reasonably well, that is what one should emphasize, rather than trying to train someone on the abilities they are losing (such as memory).


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.