Reading and writing letters can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by up to five YEARS

Doing crosswords, playing card games and writing letters later in life ‘may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by up to FIVE YEARS’

  • Experts asked 2000 elderly people how long they spent on certain activities
  • People who spent the most time keeping the brain active developed it on average at age 93
  • People who spent less time were found to have Alzheimer’s at the average age of 88

Keeping your brain active later in life can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by as much as five years.

Think of playing board and card games, doing puzzles, reading and writing letters.

In one survey, nearly 2,000 older adults were asked how long they had spent on these and similar activities in the previous year.

Among those who later developed dementia, people who spent the most time keeping their brains active developed the disease at age 93, on average.

Reading and writing letters and playing card games or puzzles later in life can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by up to five years, a study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has shown.

People who spent less time on mentally demanding activities were found to have Alzheimer’s at an average age of 88 – five years earlier.

Professor Robert Wilson, lead author of the study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said: “The good news is that it’s never too late to start the kind of low-cost, accessible activities we looked at in our study.

“Our findings suggest it may be helpful to start doing these things, even in your 80s, to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The study, published in the journal Neurology, looked at 1,903 people ages 53 to 100.

They were asked how much time they spent reading each day, and then six more questions about how active they kept their brains.

During the past year, the volunteers reported how often they had visited a library, read newspapers, magazines and books, wrote letters, and played games or puzzles.

Popular examples were crosswords, chess and card games.

Researchers looked at these mentally challenging activities because they are believed to strengthen connections in the brain, making people less likely to develop dementia.

If the “use it or lose it” theory of brain activity were correct, those who spent more time keeping their brain active would be diagnosed later.

That was found to be the case in the 497 people in the study who developed dementia after undergoing annual tests and checkups for up to 22 years.

The 10 percent who scored highest on the questions about activities such as reading and puzzles developed dementia on average at the age of 93.6.

Those with the 10 percent lowest score got it on average five years earlier.

People who kept their brains active developed Alzheimer’s disease later than those who did less, even after taking into account education, sex, social isolation and loneliness.

All of these can increase the risk of dementia, the study participants calculated.

Researchers were concerned that people who performed less mentally challenging tasks may already have early dementia.

This may have made it seem like people who didn’t do crosswords were more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, when in fact the disease caused them to stop doing crosswords.

However, analysis of the brains of 695 people in the study who died showed that those who engaged in mental activities less frequently showed no signs of early dementia.

Professor Wilson said: ‘Our study shows that people who engage in more cognitively stimulating activities can delay the age at which they develop dementia.


Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain in which the build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the transmitters that transmit messages and causes the brain to shrink.

More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.


When brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.

That includes memory, orientation, and the ability to think and reason.

The course of the disease is slow and gradual.

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live ten to 15 years.


  • Loss of short-term memory
  • disorientation
  • Behavioral changes
  • mood swings
  • Difficulty handling or calling money


  • Severe amnesia, forgetting close relatives, familiar objects or places
  • Becoming anxious and frustrated with the inability to understand the world, leading to aggressive behavior
  • Eventually loses the ability to walk
  • May have problems eating
  • The majority ultimately need 24-hour care

Source: Alzheimer’s Association