Assessing the impact of an engaged lifestyle in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease

Genetics, education and lifestyle can all influence the aging process, and as a result there is significant variation in older adults’ cognitive function. Although some risk factors for cognitive decline are fixed – such as genetic make up – people do have control over their own involvement in physical, social and intellectual activities. However, the relationship between activity and age-related cognitive decline is unclear. While some research has found that older adults leading active lifestyles obtained higher scores on memory tests, were less likely to show memory decline, and had a lower risk of developing dementia, other research has not shown any clear association. To shed more light on the relationship between activity and cognitive decline, Allison Bielak is using a technique that assesses the consistency over time with which people perform cognitive tests. Her work is based on the observation that fluctuations in how well people perform cognitive tests at different times – rather than how well people actually score on the tests – may be a useful early indicator of long-term neurological decline. Because this tool may detect subtle changes in function, Allison hopes to determine more concretely whether activity plays a beneficial role to maintain cognitive health. Ultimately, she would like to use this information to determine the best activities and activity level to maintain cognitive ability and slow the progression of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.