Posted on Jul 20, 2023, 9 p.m.
Simple activities that engage and stimulate your mind like playing chess, continuing education, doing crosswords, puzzling, and journaling may help to reduce the risk of dementia, according to a study recently published in JAMA Network Open from Monash University.
Globally 55 million people live with dementia, with 10 million new cases annually. Current CDC estimates are that there are around 5.8 million people in America living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, and this figure includes approximately 200,000 people who are under the age of 65 years old. Alarmingly this number is expected to more than double by the year 2060. While there are some medications that lessen certain symptoms, there currently is no cure for these mind-stealing debilitating diseases.
Dementia is not an inevitable part of aging, in fact, there are many healthful lifestyle choices that can help you to reduce your risk of developing dementia which includes but are not limited to avoiding smoking, maintaining optimal weight, following a healthy diet, staying physically active, getting enough sleep, keeping stress in check, and treating high blood pressure.
This study used data from long-term study of 10,318 adults aged 70+ who were enrolled in the ASPREE project and the ALSOP sub-study. Participants all lived outside of nursing homes at enrollment and had no major cognitive impairments or cardiovascular diseases. Participants answered questions about lifestyle, contact with friends/family, leisure activities, as well as outings and trips to various venues like museums and restaurants. Participants were assessed for dementia during regular visits throughout the study period.
In addition to living a healthful lifestyle researchers from this study show that frequently doing mentally challenging activities may be another way to avoid dementia by 9-11% and helps to keep your brain functioning well as you age while creative hobbies like knitting, painting, crafting, woodworking, and other passive activities reduced the risk by 7%, and socializing, frequency of external outings in contrast were not associated with a reduction in the risk of dementia. The team reported that their results remained statistically relevant even after adjusting for various factors, and no significant variations were found between men and women.
“In contrast, interpersonal networks, social activities, and external outings were not associated with dementia risk,” the authors wrote. However, the authors note that this might be because too few participants were lonely or isolated for an effect to be seen.
“We had a unique opportunity to close a gap in knowledge by investigating a broad range of lifestyle enrichment activities that older adults often undertake, and assess which of those were most strongly aligned with avoiding dementia,” said senior author Associate Professor Joanne Ryan, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. “I think what our results tell us is that active manipulation of previously stored knowledge may play a greater role in dementia risk reduction than more passive recreational activities. Keeping the mind active and challenged may be particularly important.”
The leisure activities assessed included adult literacy activities such as adult education classes, using computers, keeping a journal; mental acuity tasks like completing quizzes and crosswords, playing cards/chess; creative hobbies like woodworking, knitting or painting; more passive activities like keeping up with the news, reading or listening to music; social network activities like meeting and interacting with friends; and planned excursions such as going to a restaurant, museum or the cinema.
Associate Professor Ryan said that identifying strategies to prevent or delay dementia is a huge global priority and notes that these results did not rule out that those naturally drawn to these types of leisure activities linked to cognitive health also had specific traits that were otherwise beneficial, or that they may have had better overall health behaviors. Additionally, she said that a social connection may be important to cognitive health and mental wellbeing even though it did not show a clear link in this study.
“While engaging in literacy and mental acuity activities may not be a magic pill to avoid dementia, if that was your goal and you had to choose, our research certainly suggests these are the activities most likely to support prolonged good cognitive health,” she said. “The participants were cognitively healthy, and were likely already leading socially active lives, such that the cognitive benefits of strong social networks may be less obvious in this group compared to the general public,” said Ryan.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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