How does my environment affect my risk of Alzheimer's disease?

Scientists have been looking at the notion of "environmental enrichment" -- living in a place with a lot of interesting things to do -- and how this might benefit the brain. Some intriguing findings have emerged from research involving laboratory mice. Researchers have found, for instance, that mice raised in cages with running wheels, colorful tunnels, and other toys exhibit better memory function than mice raised in bare cages. What's more, autopsy studies have revealed that the mice raised in enriched environments also have "enriched" brains, with more synapses per neuron and more branches extending from their neurons.

A study in Cell looked specifically at whether environmental enrichment might prevent Alzheimer's in mice bred to develop the disease. Sure enough, by the time they reached old age, the mice raised from birth in the cages with plenty of toys had far lower levels of beta-amyloid peptide and amyloid deposits in their brains -- the physical signs of Alzheimer's disease -- than mice raised in a bland environment. The researchers also noticed that environmental enrichment increased the expression (activity) of genes involved with memory, neuron growth, and the generation of blood vessels to the brain. This evidence suggests that an enriched environment can change the brain in ways that may preserve memory and prevent Alzheimer's disease.

As far as people are concerned, it's harder to quantify the health advantages of enriching one's days with good books to read, musical instruments to play, computers as learning tools, excursions to the theater, and travel to interesting destinations. Still, it's easy to make a case for adding enriching activities to your life. Stimulating activities make for a full, enjoyable life, and they may keep your brain healthy, too.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.