FEB 16, 2017 7:57 AM PST

Games and Socializing Keep the Brain in Shape

With the incidence of various types of dementia on the rise (Alzheimer’s disease, White Matter syndrome, age related dementia etc.) many people are looking to decrease their risk of the disease. From diets, to exercise to certain supplements, there is a great deal of research suggesting various ways to stave off mental decline. A new study from the Mayo Clinic has found something relatively easy to do for those who want to stay as sharp as possible.  It turns out that engaging in mentally stimulating activities, even in the later stages of life, such as the ages of 60-70 years old, can result in a reduced risk of “mild cognitive decline.” This stage of mental decline is somewhere after normal age-related decline, but is not full blown dementia such as that which goes along with Alzheimer’s. 

In the research, conducted, people aged 70 or older who were cognitively normal had a reduced risk of mild cognitive decline if they had engaged in hobbies or activities such as social situations, card games, computer use or crafts.

The study comprised 1,929 cognitively normal participants of the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging in Olmsted County, Minn. These participants were followed  for an average of four years. After adjusting for confounding factors like gender, age and education, the team at Mayo found that the risk of new-onset, that is cognitive impairment that had not presented previous to the study, was decreased by 30% when participants had spent time using a computer, 28% if they had a hobby that involved arts and crafts and 23% and 22% for those volunteers who had attended social functions or played games, respectively.  

Yonas Geda, M.D., psychiatrist and behavioral neurologist at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus and senior author of the study stated, “Our team found that persons who performed these activities at least one to two times per week had less cognitive decline than those who engaged in the same activities only two to three times per month or less.” The research was a continuation of previous work done by Mayo researchers. That work had found a decreased risk, but the most recent research went a bit further. In addition to a neurocognitive assessment when participants began the study, evaluations from an consensus panel at the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic were conducted on each individual patient. These individual assessments were undertaken to classify each study volunteer as either of normal cognition or of mild cognitive impairment.

Dr. Geda explained,  “Our previous cross-sectional study had found an association between engagement in mentally stimulating activities in late life and decreased odds of mild cognitive impairment. However, those findings were considered preliminary until confirmed by a prospective cohort study that we are now reporting in JAMA Neurology.”

What was also significant in this further research is that it included participants who were apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4 carriers. Carriers of this gene are at a higher risk for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease than those without the genetic mutation. While those without the gene benefited from all of the mentally engaging activities, those with the APOE gene only showed decreased risk if they engaged in computer use and social activities.

Janina Krell-Roesch, Ph.D., the first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Geda’s Translational Neuroscience and Aging Program (TAP) stated, "Even for a person who is at genetic risk for cognitive decline, engaging in some activities was beneficial. So I think the signal is there even for APOE ε4 carriers." Check out the video below to learn more.


Sources: JAMA Neurology, Mayo Clinic,

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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