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Could poker protect you from Alzheimer's?

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Researchers have not (as far as they know) found a cure for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia, or a reliable means of preventing dementia, but they have some thoughts about simple activities that correlate with reduced risk. Those activities could include exercising, doing crossword puzzles, and playing cards.

It’s possible that some of those activities might actively reduce the risk of developing dementia, the researchers say. Dementia researchers have been reporting on their work this week in Copenhagen, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

See also: Alzheimer’s R&D funding should double, witness says

Some researchers talked about high-tech efforts to find possible dementia treatments and detection methods. One team found that long-term use of a diabetes drug, pioglitazone, might reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, possibly by suppressing inflammation in the brain.

Another team found that more than half of human brains affected by Alzheimer’s may contain TDP-43, an abnormal protein, and that people who have TDP-43 in their brains might be 10 times more likely than other comparable people to be cognitively impaired.

A third team said using PET scan technology to look for abnormal tau protein in the brain seemed to be a good way to identify individuals who might perform worse on memory tests three years in the future.

The researchers also gave presentations on low-tech ways to help people affected by dementia. The authors of one U.K. study found that offering just eight support sessions for family caregivers could significantly reduce the level of anxiety and depression they reported two years later.

The authors of two studies found light or moderate exercise in middle age might significantly reduce the risk people would develop mild cognitive impairment.

The studies with the most relevance for long-term care insurance (LTCI) issuers and agents thinking about useful marketing giveaways — or interesting features to put on their websites — had to do with leisure activities.

Stephanie Schultz and colleagues at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center studied 329 healthy middle-aged adults.

Forty percent of the participants had a gene that correlates with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, and 74 percent had parents who developed Alzheimer’s.

The participants who said they often played games — including cards, checkers and crossword puzzles — had greater brain volumes in several regions associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and they had higher scores on memory and cognitive function tests.

“Game playing may help prevent AD by preserving brain structures and cognitive functions vulnerable to AD pathophysiology,” the researchers conclude in their abstract. “More detailed studies investigating the effects of specific gaming activities would help further our understanding of how an active lifestyle might help delay the development of AD.”

See also: Drugs, scans and genes: An Alzheimer’s research conference