Brain Stimulating Activities Reduce Memory Decline, Says Study

Reading, writing and participating in other brain-stimulating activities at any age may protect your memory later in life, according to research.

The study, which tracked 294 individuals, is published online in the July 3 issue of Neurology according to USA Today.

Robert Wilson, the study’s lead author, stated:

“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.”

The Times reported:

“Mild cognitive impairment, in which older adults show lapses in memory and other mental functions that aren’t serious enough to impair their daily activities, affects about 10 percent to 20 percent of those over age 70.

“Each year, about 10 percent of these people will progress to develop dementia, a more serious form of impairment that can drastically affect their independence and ability to function.”

Neuroimaging research suggests that cognitive activity can lead to changes in brain structure and function that may enhance cognitive reserve.

Judy Willis, a neurologist based in Santa Barbara, California said that intellectually stimulating activities involve processing and using information. Examples are reading a book and then predicting what will happen next, as well as watching a movie and then comparing it with other films

Willis says that doing a variety of cognitive activities appears to be more protective of the cognitive reserve than focusing on one thing, even something like playing chess.

“More research is needed to look at how much time should be devoted to an activity or learning a skill and how often it should be revisited,” she adds.

Recent studies have also shown that higher education may protect against MS-related cognitive deficits.

The Times reported:

“The researchers reviewed 32 randomized controlled trials, in which patients were randomly assigned to either an intervention such as drugs to control cognitive decline, herbal remedies, physical activity or mental exercises including crossword puzzles; or left to continue living their lives without any changes.

“By comparing the various methods of treating cognitive decline, the scientists hoped to come up with some ranking of how effective the various interventions were.”

The study showed little evidence supporting the effectiveness of natural remedies and even chemical effectiveness when it comes to improving cognitive functions.

“By far the intervention that showed the most dramatic benefits among healthy elderly adults involved mental exercise,” The Times report stated. They continued on to say:

“These trials involved participants learning computer-based training programs or performing memory, reasoning and speed-processing exercises.

“Those who were trained on these types of skills showed significantly better memory and attention skills than those who did not, and one trial even reported that participants retained improved memory at a five year follow-up.”

While the researchers of the study say that keeping the brain active does help, they also say that it’s not entirely clear whether intervening with puzzles and what not can actually bypass mild cognitive impairment or steer an aging brain away from dementia.

[Image via Shutterstock/Juan Gaertner]