Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Think. Life's worth it.

"People who lead more intellectually stimulating lives are somehow protected from mental decline." That is the unsurprising result of some recent research, which shows "that people who stay mentally engaged throughout their lives may have a greater 'cognitive reserve' that allows them to withstand more of the brain damage seen in Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms begin."

"The physical-fitness principle of 'use it or lose it' may apply, in a fashion, to the brain as well," said the study’s lead author, Dr. Ross Andel of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida.

Ironically however, this also means that the higher your 'cognitive reserve,' the quicker the onset of degenerative diseases like Alzheimers once symptoms do occur. Explains Michael Rutter, from the Institute of Psychiatry in London: "People with a good education and who have Alzheimer's disease are able to combat the symptoms more effectively, so that by the time the problems appear, they are at a relatively late stage of the disease."

The message then: intellectual pursuits that challenge and extend us are good, not just in the moment (as I talked about with the idea of 'flow'), not just because intellectual activity helps us to better understand and change the world around us, and not just because they provide their own reward -- but because they also extend our mental life. Talking of the 'cognitive reserve' built up by intellectual stimulation, Yaakov Stern, of Columbia University in the US, said: "This is as powerful as any drug we will ever have to stop Alzheimer's progression."

Start challenging yourself.

Linked Articles: 'Complex' work may help fight Alzheimer’s
High IQ can help fight off mental decline, say scientists
Cognitive reserve and lifestyle


  1. It's true - my Grandfather, now in his late 80s, is as lucid as the next person. He constantly reads books - not just on subjects he knows. Inspiration.

  2. by contrast my grandmother didn't read much, didn't use her mind much after she retired and slowly deteriorated.

  3. My father was the same as your grandmother, Scott, rather than Lewis's grandfather -- he basically gave up on everything at retirement, and he died of it. AS Lewis says, those who keep mentally alert at whatever age are inspirational; there's no need to give up on thinking simply because you're old.

    Frank Lloyd Wright (yes, I have a FLW story :p) ) was 92 when he died, and still working. As he himself said, by this stage his brain was working so well that he could almost 'shake designs out of his sleeve.' And so he did - the last decade of his life produced more designs than any other. :-)


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