A study to be presented at a conference in the US in late spring suggests that staying mentally active as in reading magazines, or pursuing a craft
or hobby like knitting, pottery, and even playing computer games, in later life may delay or prevent memory loss: however watching too much TV does not.
The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual Meeting, which this year takes place from 25 April to 2 May in Seattle, Washington.
The researchers studied 197 people aged 70 to 89 who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or memory loss, and compared them to 1,124 people of the same age group who had no such symptoms.
They questioned both groups about their daily activities in middle age (when they were 50 to 65 years old) and within the past year.
The results showed that:
- Participants whose daily activity in later life included reading books, playing games, using the computer, and doing crafts like pottery and quilting, had a 30 to 50 per cent lower risk of developing memory loss compared to participants who did none of these things.
- Participants who spent less than seven hours a day in their later years watching TV were 50 per cent less likely to develop memory loss compared to those who spent more than 7 hours a day in front of the TV.
- And participants who had socialized and read magazines during middle age were about 40 per cent less likely to develop memory loss later in life than those who had not.
"This study is exciting because it demonstrates that aging does not need to be a passive process."
"By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss," Geda explained, while cautiously adding that:
"Of course, the challenge with this type of research is that we are relying on past memories of the participants, therefore, we need to confirm these findings with additional research."
Mild cognitive impairment is a stage between normal aging and the more serious problems of dementia and Alzheimer's. It often includes the memory loss problems associated with with Alzheimer's, but it doesn't have many of the other symptoms of full blown dementia.
Many people who have mild cognitive impairment (MCI) do go on to develop Alzheimer's, but some do not, so a diagnosis of MCI does not mean you will develop Alzheimer's.
Scientists at the Mayo Clinic are testing a simple way to help people with MCI to hang on to their independence. The system relies on monthly pocket calendars that are small enough to fit in a man's pocket or a woman's purse. Each day on the calendar shows planned events and things to do, plus miscellaneous notes like the weather forecast or something useful like what the latest bargain is at the local supermarket.
This type of memory tool has been tested and found successful with people who have suffered memory problems after brain injury, so the Mayo Clinic scientists are testing it on people with mild cognitive impairment to see if it serves them too. So far it appears that it does.
More information on the pocket calendar tool and trial can be found at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/memory-loss/HA00001.
Abstracts for the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual Meeting will be available to view online from 25 February on this webpage http://www.aan.com/go/science/abstracts.
Sources: American Academy of Neurology, Mayo Clinic website.
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD