Brain stimulation at any age may slow cognitive decline, study finds

By Lena Christine, National Monitor | July 06, 2013

Brain stimulation at any age may slow cognitive decline, study finds

The rate of decline in those who participated in infrequent mental activity was 48 percent faster than those participating in average activity levels.

In a study published on July 3 in an American Academy of Neurology online issue of the medical journal Neurology, new research suggests reading, writing and other brain stimulating activities could preserve memory, regardless of age.

The study was comprised of 294 people and tested memory and thinking every year for about 6 years before their death. Deaths occurred at an average age of 89 years old. During the study, participants were given a questionnaire that asked whether or not they read books, wrote or participated in other brain stimulating activities as a child, adolescent, middle-aged person and at their current age.

Upon death, participants’ brains were examined through autopsy for any physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles.

After adjusting for differing levels of plaques and tangles in the brain, researchers discovered that individuals who participated in mentally stimulating activities in both early and late life showed a slower decline of memory compared to those who did not participate in such activities during their lifetime. Mental activity accounted for about 15 percent of the difference in decline, beyond the percentage that could be explained by plaques and tangles present in the brain.

Study author, Dr. Robert S. Wilson of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said, “Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these from across a person’s lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age.”

The research also showed the rate of decline was reduced by 32 percent in individuals participating in frequent mental activity during late life in comparison to people participating in average mental activity. The rate of decline in those who participated in infrequent activity was 48 percent faster than those participating in average activity levels.

“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.”, Wilson further explained.

“More frequent cognitive activity across the life span has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline that is independent of common neuropathologic conditions, consistent with the cognitive reserve hypothesis,” the researchers wrote in the study’s abstract.

 

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