A neurological study suggests that participation in arts and craft activities during mid-life may help people maintain their memory in older age.

Researchers also found that socializing with others in middle and old age may help to delay the development in very old age of the thinking and memory problems that often lead to dementia.

The study results have been published online in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

People age 85 and older make up the fastest growing age group in the United States and worldwide.

“As millions of older US adults are reaching the age where they may experience these memory and thinking problem called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), it is important we look to find lifestyle changes that may stave off the condition,” said study author Rosebud Roberts, M.B., Ch.B., M.S., of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age.”

Researchers followed 256 people with an average age of 87 who were free of memory and thinking problems at the start of the study. The participants reported their participation in arts, such as painting, drawing, and sculpting; crafts, like woodworking, pottery, ceramics, quilting, quilling, and sewing.

They also shared their involvement in social activities, such as going to the theater, movies, concerts, socializing with friends, book clubs, Bible study, and travel. A person’s involvement with computer activities such as using the Internet, computer games, conducting web searches, and online purchases, was also documented.

In the study, 121 people developed mild cognitive impairment after an average of four years. Participants who engaged in arts in both middle and old age were 73 percent less likely to develop MCI than those who did not report engaging in artistic activities.

Those who crafted in middle and old age were 45 percent less likely to develop MCI and people who socialized in middle and old age were 55 percent less likely to develop MCI compared to those who did not engage in like activities. Computer use in later life was associated with a 53 percent reduced risk of MCI.

Researchers discovered a host of other factors contributed to the development of MCI. For example, risk factors such as having the APOE gene, having high blood pressure in middle age, depression and risk factors related to blood vessels all were found to increase the risk of developing cognitive impairment.

Source: American Academy of Neurology/EurekAlert!