Keeping the brain active may help prevent dementia, study suggests

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By Ed Pinches | Wednesday 14 July 2021

Researchers in the US have found that keeping up reading, writing and playing games in later life could delay the onset of dementia by up to five years. The scientific journal Neurology published the findings today (Wednesday July 14).

What did the researchers look at?

The Chicago based team asked study volunteers about their activities in 7 questions. The questions were:

  1. About how much time do you spend reading each day?
  2. In the last year, how often did you visit a library?
  3. Thinking of the last year, how often do you read newspapers?
  4. During the last year, how often did you read magazines?
  5. During the past year, how often did you read books.
  6. During the past year, how often did you write letters.
  7. During the past year, how often did you play games like checkers or other board games, cards, puzzles?

What did the researchers find?

The researchers then studied to see which research volunteers went on to develop dementia.

Out of the 457 people who were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers found that people with the highest levels of activity, on average, developed dementia at age 94. The people with the lowest brain activity levels, developed dementia at age 89.

What our expert said:

Dr Katy Stubbs from Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“Dementia isn’t an inevitable part of ageing and evidence suggests that keeping the brain active throughout life may help boost cognitive reserve, a kind of resilience that allows our brains to resist damage for longer as we age.

“This research supports the established ‘use it or lose it’ idea, and results suggest that keeping the brain active could help delay the onset of dementia. However, the research relied on study volunteers reporting their own activity levels at the start of the study and this isn’t always a reliable way of establishing people’s real behaviour. The participants were predominantly white and well-educated, and further studies will need to explore whether this relationship is true for other, more diverse populations.

“Research shows 40% of dementia risk may be within our power to change, with evidence suggesting that eating a balanced diet, staying physically and mentally active, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check and not smoking are all ways to keep our brains healthy. It’s never too early to start thinking about your brain health but research suggests that making positive changes in your forties and fifties may be particularly important.”

Want to know more?

Read the scientific article here in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Our Dementia Research Infoline team are here to answer any questions you have about the link between activity levels and dementia. Give us a call on 0300 111 5 111 between 9.00-5.00pm Monday to Friday.

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About the author

Ed Pinches