Mentally stimulating brain games may delay dementia onset
Longevity expert suggests doing something 'engaging and fun' to keep the mind sharp
For adults 70 and older without cognitive problems, playing games was associated with a 22 per cent reduced risk of what's known as new-onset mild cognitive impairment, a condition that can happen before age-related declines in brain function give way to full-blown dementia.
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"Mentally stimulating activities perhaps in combination with known healthy lifestyles such as exercise are simple and inexpensive activities that can potentially protect people against the development of mild cognitive impairment," said senior study author Dr. Yonas E. Geda, a psychiatry and neurology researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.
They evaluated participants every 15 months. Half of their subjects stayed in the study for more than four years.
In surveys, participants reported how often they did various activities. Researchers then compared the risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment based on whether people did activities at least once or twice a week or no more than two or three times a month.
By the end of the study, 456 people had developed new-onset mild cognitive impairment, according to a report in JAMA Neurology.
Researchers took a closer look at a subset of 512 people who had an increased risk of cognitive decline because they carried a version of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene that is a risk factor for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's dementia.
The study wasn't a controlled experiment designed to test whether or how different activities might directly prevent or delay the onset of cognitive decline, the authors note.
Playing games or socializing at home may not protect the brain against decline, but devoting several hours a week over several months to learning new activities may be associated with better brain function, Park said by email.
"Learning how to use a computer and many apps" also helped.Her advice to elderly people who want to keep their mind sharp: "Do something that is engaging and fun for you that you want to spend time on."