Using a computer into old age may help keep your memory sharp.
As we age, our brain faces an inevitable decline. Not only does the brain physically shrink, but there are also changes on a cellular and vascular level.
This decline, as inevitable as it seems, affects some more than others; this disparity between individuals has spurred numerous investigations over the years.
Studies have primarily focused on the effects of physical and mental activity, diet and the use of supplements. All seem to play at least some role in maintaining the brain's youth and vigor.
There are multiple problems in measuring the impact of any one factor on the aging brain. By its very definition, an aging brain is attached to an aging body, both of which have had a myriad of experiences, both positive and negative.
Quantity of mental activity is just one of the potential factors that could impact the level of mental agility in old age. Defining the role of any single parameter is difficult.
Evidence for the protective role of cognitive activity
A study in 2014, by the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute, found that individuals who engaged their brain more frequently showed less volume reduction in the parts of the brain involved in Alzheimer's, including the hippocampus.
Other research has shown that people with cognitively stimulating occupations, such as physicians, musicians, pilots and architects, maintain their cognitive prowess into old age.
However, not all findings have supported the hypothesis that mental activity into old age can reduce cognitive decline. For this reason, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ, have taken a fresh look at the interplay between an active mind and thinking and memory problems in seniors.
The team followed 1,929 people, age 70 and above, who were part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging in Rochester, MN.
The cohort was followed for an average of 4 years. Each participant filled in a questionnaire prior to the study that asked about the types of mental activities they regularly took part in. The activities included using a computer, crafting, reading and social activities.
Computers and cognitive decline
The results were most marked in regards to those who used computers; the data showed that the participants using a computer on a weekly basis were less likely to develop memory and thinking problems over the course of the trials. Of the computer-use group, 17.9% of participants showed mild cognitive decline; for those who did not use a computer, the figure was 30.9%.
Overall, people in the group that used the computer regularly were 42% less likely to show cognitive decline.
Similarly, compared with individuals who did not, those who indulged in social activities or read magazines were less likely to develop memory problems by 23% and 30%, respectively.
Individuals involved in craft activities, including knitting, were 16% less likely to have memory impairments, and those who regularly played games were 14% less likely.
The results will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada, in April.
Study author Janina Krell-Roesch says:
"The results show the importance of keeping the mind active as we age. [...] As people age, they may want to consider participating in activities like these because they may keep a mind healthier, longer."
Although the authors stress that the research shows association rather than cause and effect, the weight of evidence in this regard has been mounting for some time. The moral of the story appears to be that any type of mental exercise is better than none.
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