Computers, games, crafting keep the aging brain sharp

Engaging in mentally-stimulating activities, such as playing games, crafting, and using a computer, is linked to a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a new study found.

A team of researchers wanted to investigate whether timing, number, and frequency of brain-stimulating activities in midlife and late life are linked to the risk of incident mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Image Credit: Thodonal88 / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Thodonal88 / Shutterstock

The study, published in Neurology of the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, aims to look at how brain activities affect MCI risk.

“There are currently no drugs that effectively treat mild cognitive impairment, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, so there is growing interest in lifestyle factors that may help slow brain aging believed to contribute to thinking and memory problems—factors that are low cost and available to anyone,” Dr. Yonas Geda, doctor of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, said in a statement.

“Our study took a close look at how often people participated in mentally stimulating activities in both middle-age and later life, with a goal of examining when such activities may be most beneficial to the brain,” she added.

To land to the findings of the study, the team determined 2,000 individuals without MCI. They had an average age of 78.  Before the study, the participants answered a survey about how often they perform five forms of brain-stimulating activities during their middle age (50 to 65 years old) and in later life (65 years old and above).

Then, the researchers conducted memory and thinking tests every 15 months. They followed the participants for five years. In the study duration, a total of 532 participants developed MCI.

The findings show that using a computer was linked to a 48-percent decreased risk of MCI. Moreover, using a computer later in life is linked to a 37-percent reduced risk, and those who used computers in middle and late life was linked to a 38-percent reduced risk.

Subsequently, those who engaged in social activities such as going out with friends, playing games, or completing crossword puzzles in both middle ages and later life had a 20-percent reduced risk of MCI. Lastly, doing crafting is associated with 42-percent lower risk, but only in when they reach late life.  

Also, those who were engaged in more activities had a relatively lower risk for MCI.

“Our study was observational, so it is important to point out that while we found links between a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and various mentally stimulating activities, it is possible that instead of the activities lowering a person’s risk, a person with mild cognitive impairment may not be able to participate in these activities as often,” Dr. Geda explained. “More research is needed to further investigate our findings,” she added.

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a medical condition common with aging. It has been linked to memory and cognitive ability, but it isn’t a type of dementia. MCI-stricken patients have milder symptoms, which include problems with understanding information, and difficulty to complete tasks.

On the other hand, in dementia, the patients struggle with daily tasks such as bathing, eating, and dressing independently. But, in some studies, MCI may be a potential driver and precursor of dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the stage between normal aging cognitive decline, and a more serious decline called dementia. It involves difficulty in memory, thinking, language, and judgment are more pronounced than normal age-related changes.

Mild cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later developing dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease or other neurological conditions. But some people with mild cognitive impairment never get worse, and a few eventually get better.

According to the National Institute of Aging, the signs and symptoms of MCI include forgetting things more often, forgetting important events like appointments, having trouble coming up with words than others of the same age, feeling increasingly overwhelmed by decision making or planning to accomplish tasks and starting to have problems finding one’s way in familiar environments.

In some cases, those who have MCI are at a higher risk to experience apathy, anxiety, irritability and aggression, and depression.

The National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the GHR Foundation, the Robert H. and Claire Smith and Abigail Van Buren Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program, the Edli Foundation, Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, and the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, supported the study.

Journal reference:

Quantity and quality of mental activities and the risk of incident mild cognitive impairment
Janina Krell-Roesch, Jeremy A. Syrjanen, Maria Vassilaki, Mary M. Machulda, Michelle M. Mielke, David S. Knopman, Walter K. Kremers, Ronald C. Petersen, Yonas E. Geda
Neurology Jul 2019, 10.1212/WNL.0000000000007897; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000007897, https://n.neurology.org/content/early/2019/07/10/WNL.0000000000007897

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

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Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She recently completed a Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and is now working as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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