A number of studies have shown a positive association between cognitively stimulating activities and later cognitive function. However, few of these studies look at the association in those age 70 and better. Recently, researchers addressed this question in a study that included 1,929 adults age 70 and better (median age of 77), who were cognitively normal at the start of the study. By the end of the study period, 456 participants had developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). After controlling for other factors such as age, sex, and education, the researchers looked at the association between participation in cognitively stimulating activities and the participants’ likelihood of developing MCI.
The types of cognitively stimulating activities that were asked about were reading books, craft activities, computer use, playing games, and social activities. Looking at each of these activities separately, researchers found that computer use and craft activities had the greatest positive benefit, reducing risk between 28 and 30 percent. Playing games and social activities showed a 22 to 23 percent reduced likelihood of MCI. Reading books showed a 17 percent decreased likelihood, though this fell just short of statistical significance. (Other research suggests that the type of reading material matters.) For participants with stronger genetic risks for dementia, computer use and social activity showed between a 35 and 38 percent reduction in risk. Medical comorbidities and depression status did not significantly alter these results.
The reasons that some activities were associated with greater reduced risk than others isn’t clear from this study, but other research suggests that the amount of mental stimulation matters. For the aging services industry, this further reinforces the importance of ensuring that older adults have appealing and engaging options available for cognitive stimulation.
Krell-Roesch J, Vemuri P, Pink A, et al. Association between mentally stimulating activities in late life and the outcome of incident mild cognitive impairment, with an analysis of the APOE ε4 Genotype. JAMA Neurology. (2017). DOI:10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.3822