A study in last month's Neurology provides more evidence that people who engage in little leisure activity are at greater risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. The study, by Yaakov Stern et al. at Columbia University, New York, is noteworthy because of its size (1,772 people were observed for up to seven years), and because it was prospective, community-based, and controlled for various confounding factors. When age, ethnic group, education, and occupation were taken into account, subjects with high leisure activity were at 38 percent lower risk for developing dementia. This relationship held up even when factors such as baseline cognitive performance, health limitations that could inhibit leisure activity, cerebrovascular disease, and depression were factored in. Reading, visiting friends or relatives, going to movies or restaurants, and walking or other excursions for pleasure were most strongly associated with reduced risk of dementia. Additional statistical analyses suggested that there was a cumulative effect for each activity.—Hakon Heimer


  1. This is one of the few studies that have longitudinally explored the relation between leisure activities and dementia. The authors carefully tested the hypothesis that leisure activities contribute to the reserve against dementia by reserving a set of skills or repertoires that allow the individual to cope longer before the clinical manifestations of AD emerge. After controlling for many relevant confounders, they found inverse associations between leisure activities and incident dementia. We also detected similar associations in an ongoing longitudinal population-based study, in which we followed 732 elderly individuals for an average of 6.4 years. The absence of these leisure activities may not be a risk factor but rather a surrogate marker for the actual risk factor as discussed in the study. Further research is worthwhile to clarify these associations due to the possible implication of intervention.

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Primary Papers

  1. . Influence of leisure activity on the incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Neurology. 2001 Dec 26;57(12):2236-42. PubMed.