What does it take to reach the age of 90 without a hint of dementia? Fewer than one in 200 are lucky enough to get there, and researchers are starting to figure out what keeps people lucid until the end.
Laguna Woods, a sprawling California retirement community, is at the center of the world’s largest decades-long study of health and mental acuity in the elderly.
So far, scientists here have found little evidence that diet or exercise has an affect. But the findings suggest that those who spend long stretches of their days, three hours and more, engrossed in some mental activities like cards may be at reduced risk of developing dementia. And all mental activities may not be equal. The scientists are seeing some evidence that a social component – like the camaraderie of a regular card game – may be crucial. They figure the more people elders have contact with the better they do mentally and physically.
There’s also a genetic component. Research from this and other studies of the very old have provided hints that some genes may help people remain lucid even with brains that show all the biological ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. And that may provide clues to future treatments.