Best ways to ward off cognitive impairment

Older people have long been encouraged to actively stimulate their mind to ward off cognitive decline, but there has been little hard evidence to support this strategy.

Now neuroscientists can report that staying mentally active may be even more beneficial than previously thought.

Their four-year study of almost 2000 people aged 70-plus shows that exercising the brain, even late in life, may protect against new-onset mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is regarded as the intermediate zone between normal cognitive ageing and dementia.

And the good news even applies to apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4 carriers who are known to be at increased risk of both MCI and Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors found that people who used a computer, engaged in craft and social activities, and played games had a significantly decreased risk of new MCI.  However, they note that other stimulating activities such as reading books are less effective in reducing risk.

The results support preliminary findings from previous work.

“To our knowledge, the present study may be one of few population-based cohort studies (if not the first) to examine the risk of incident MCI in persons 70 years or older as predicted by engagement in mentally stimulating activities in late life,” write the researchers in JAMA Neurology.