Games, crafts may help prevent dementia

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Lindsey Tanner

Even in your 70s and beyond, simple activities — including web-surfing, playing bridge and socializing — can stave off mental decline, new research says. 

Benefits were greatest in computer users and in those without a gene variation linked with Alzheimer’s disease. But even among seniors with that genetic trait, mental decline that sometimes precedes dementia was less common among those who engaged in mind-stimulating activities.

The study didn’t evaluate the costly, computer-based games that purport to keep the brain sharp. The benefits were found from activities that most older adults have ready access to.

“They don’t have to spend their life’s savings” on fancy gadgets, said Dr. Yonas Geda, the study’s senior author and a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic campus in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Movies and computers

The study, which was recently published in the journal JAMA Neurology, looked at five types of activities that are thought to help keep the mind sharp — computer use; making crafts; playing games, including chess or bridge; going to movies or other types of socializing; and reading books. 

The idea was to see if these activities could help prevent mild cognitive impairment. That condition involves problems with memory, thinking and attention that don’t interfere much with daily life but which increase risks for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Almost 2,000 adults aged 70 to 93 without any memory problems participated. They lived in Minnesota’s Olmsted County, where the Mayo Clinic in Rochester is located.

Participants were asked whether they had engaged in any of the five activities during the previous year and, if so, how often.

They were tested for cognitive impairment through mental exams at the start of the study and every 15 months thereafter for about four years. During that time, 456 study participants developed the mild impairment.

Reading not as helpful

Analysis found a protective effect from each activity except for reading books. Study participants who engaged in any of the other activities at least once weekly were 20 to 30 percent less likely to develop the condition over the four years than those who never did those activities.

The researchers noted that the statistical link they found with reduced risk does not prove that the activities were responsible.

Still, the results support the idea that “being engaged mentally is good for brain health,” according to Heather Snyder of the Alzheimer’s Association.

— AP