Challenging the mind early with education and stimulating work and later in life with reading, socializing and computer use may help keep it thinking clearly into old age, according to new research. A lifetime engaging in intellectually stimulating pursuits may significantly lower your risk for dementia in your golden years. Even people with relatively low educational and professional achievements can gain protection against late life dementia if they adopt a mentally stimulating lifestyle, reading and playing music and games.
“In terms of preventing cognitive impairment, education and occupation are important,” said study lead author Prashanthi Vemuri, an assistant professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic and Foundation in Rochester, Minnesota. “But so is intellectually stimulating activity during mid- to late life,” she added.
A new study from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging confirms it again in a report appearing in June 23 edition of JAMA Neurology. Previous research has linked intellectual enrichment with possible protection against cognitive decline. The purpose of this study was to investigate the association of lifetime intellectual enrichment with baseline cognitive performance and rate of cognitive decline in an older population without dementia and to estimate the years of protection provided against cognitive impairment by these factors.
They did prospective analysis of individuals enrolled from October 1, 2004, 2008 and 2009 in the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, a longitudinal population based study of cognitive aging in Olmsted County, Minnesota.
“We studied 1995 individuals without dementia, 1718 cognitively normal individuals and 277 individuals with mild cognitive impairment who completed intellectual lifestyle enrichment measures at baseline and underwent at least 1 follow-up visit,” writes Dr. Vemuri and colleagues.
The 1,995 seniors were of ages 70 to 89 years and did not have dementia in Olmsted County, Minnesota. They analyzed education/occupation scores and mid/late-life cognitive activity based on self-reports.
There results confirmed that better education/occupation scores and mid/late-life cognitive activity were associated with better cognitive performance.
The researchers found that higher scores that gauged education and occupation as well as higher levels of mid/late-life cognitive activity (e.g., reading books, participating in social activities and doing computer activities at least three times per week) were linked to better cognition in older patients.
The authors suggest high lifetime intellectual enrichment may delay the onset of cognitive impairment by almost nine years in carriers of the APOE4 genotype, a risk factor for Alzheimer disease, compared with low lifetime intellectual enrichment.
“If you start early, your brain is probably sharper than starting later,” Vemuri says, “But it’s never too late, that’s one strong message from the study.”