Engaging in two or more mentally stimulating activities- including reading books, using a computer and engaging in social activities- has been linked to a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), according to a recent study published in Neurology.
One of the study’s co-authors said, “There are currently no drugs that effectively treat mild cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, so there is growing interest in lifestyle factors that may help slow brain aging believed to contribute to thinking and memory problems — factors that are low cost and available to anyone.”
For the study, the researchers followed 2,000 people at or above the age of 70 over 5 years to monitor clinical progression of MCI. At the beginning of the study, each participant completed a self-reported survey on the timing, number and frequency of their participation in five mentaly stimulating activities: reading books, using a computer, engaging in social activities , playing games and engaging in craft activities. The participants' median age as 78, with an average education level of 14 years. 49.9% of the group as male. During the 5 year-study period, 532 people developed MCI.
Although the number of mentally stimulating activities each participant engaged with between the ages of 50 and 65 had no association with their onset of MCI, for those older than 66, the researchers found that the risk of developing MCI was significantly lower for those who engaged in more stimulating activities than those who didn’t.
All in all, they found that reading books, playing games or engaging in craft or social activities at least 2 or 3 times per month in late life significantly decreased one’s risk of developing MCI. They found similar results for those using a computer at least 5 or 6 times per week.
The researchers said, “The findings of this report could be of value to clinicians attempting to counsel midlife and older adults about how to stave off or delay the onset of mild cognitive impairment.” However, although mentally stimulating activities are inexpensive intervention that may decrease one’s chances of MCI, they said, “important questions remain about why mentally stimulating activities remain primarily more protective in late life compared with midlife."