Reading books, writing and participating in brain-stimulating activities may preserve memory into old age, according to a new study.
“Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age,” said study author Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., with Rush University Medical Center.
For the study, 294 people were given tests that measured memory and thinking every year for approximately six years before their deaths. They also answered a questionnaire about whether they read books, wrote and participated in other mentally stimulating activities during childhood, adolescence, middle age and at their current age. The average age of death in this group was 89.
After they died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles, according to the researcher.
The researcher found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities — both early and late in life — had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not participate in these activities across their lifetime, after adjusting for differing levels of plaques and tangles in the brain.
The findings suggest that mental activity accounted for nearly 15 percent of the difference in decline beyond what is explained by plaques and tangles in the brain.
“Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents,” said Wilson.
The study found that the rate of decline was reduced by nearly one-third in people with frequent mental activity in late life, compared to people with average mental activity.
The rate of decline of those with infrequent activity was 48 percent faster than those with average activity.
The study was published in the online issue of Neurology.
Source: American Academy of Neurology