Study Pinpoints Activities Associated With Reduced Risk of Cognitive Decline

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Mentally stimulating activities like using a computer, playing games, crafting, and participating in social activities were associated with a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment in older people, a study published in Neurology has found. People with mild cognitive impairment, which is not the same as dementia, may have memory loss or have difficulty following conversations or understanding complex information.

Janina Krell-Roesch, Ph.D., of Mayo Clinic’s Translational Neuroscience and Aging Laboratory, and colleagues analyzed five-year data from 2,000 participants in the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. The participants were at least 70 years old at the beginning of the study, and none of them had mild cognitive impairment when they enrolled. Participants completed a questionnaire about how often they took part in five types of mentally stimulating activities during middle age (ages 50 to 65) and in later life (age 66 and older). The activities were reading books, crafting such as pottery or sewing, doing computer activities, playing games like cards or crossword puzzles, and engaging in social activities such as going out with friends. Participants then took thinking and memory tests every 15 months. Over the course of five years, 532 participants developed mild cognitive impairment.

The researchers found that using a computer in middle age was associated with a 48% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and that using a computer in later life was associated with a 30% lower risk. Engaging in social activities and playing games in both middle age and later life were each associated with a 20% lower risk. Craft activities were also associated with a 42% lower risk, but only in later life.

The more activities in which people engaged during later life, the less likely they were to develop mild cognitive impairment. Engaging in two activities was associated with a 28% lower risk, engaging in three activities was associated with a 45% lower risk, engaging in four activities was associated with a 56% lower risk, and engaging in five activities was associated with a 43% lower risk.

“Persons that engage in mentally stimulating activities may have a higher likelihood of exhibiting other healthy lifestyle behaviors that may be protective against cognitive decline, such as physical activity or a healthy diet,” they wrote. “Engaging in leisure activities may also be associated with better emotional health, which in turn is associated with cognitive health.”

For related news, see the Psychiatric News article “New Insights Into How Staying Active May Delay Onset of Alzheimer’s.”

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