Engaging in brain activities doesn’t affect rate of memory decline

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By Alice Tuohy | Tuesday 11 December 2018

BMJ:  Intellectual engagement and cognitive ability in later life (the “use it or lose it” conjecture): longitudinal, prospective study

Scottish researchers have found that there is no association between an individual’s engagement in stimulating brain activities and the rate cognitive decline as they get older. The results are published today (10 December) in the scientific journal the BMJ.

Researchers studied 498 volunteers from Scotland who were all born in 1936 and had all taken the same group intelligence test at eleven years old.

Scientists then tested the study participants’ cognitive abilities when they were around 64 years old and repeated this same test up to five times within a 15-year period.

Study participants also self-reported their interests and engagement levels in several stimulating brain activities including reading, problem-solving and their thirst for learning.

Researchers found that the level of engagement in these stimulating brain activities was associated with an individual’s overall cognitive performance but not associated with the rate of decline in memory and thinking in later life.

Dr David Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“Previous evidence suggests that keeping the brain active may help boost cognitive reserve, allowing our brains to resist damage for longer as we get older, and this research adds to the ongoing ‘use it or lose it’ debate.

“Although researchers found people who were more engaged in these stimulating brain activities earlier in life had better memory and thinking skills when they got older, the rate of age-related decline in memory and thinking was not affected.

“While the research looked at people’s memory thinking skills as they aged it did not consider people with dementia and we can’t say from these results whether specific brain training activities could impact a person’s risk of the condition.

“In addition to staying mentally active, keeping physically fit, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking, drinking within recommended guidelines and keeping weight, cholesterol and blood pressure in check are all good ways to support a healthy brain as we get older.”


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Alice Tuohy