Writing, Chess, Puzzles Lessen Dementia Risks in Older Age: New Study

Writing, Chess, Puzzles Lessen Dementia Risks in Older Age: New Study
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7/17/2023
Updated:
7/17/2023
0:00

Writing, puzzles, chess and cards are among activities that may help reduce the risks of dementia in older age, according to a new Australian study.

Findings from a Monash University research found that older people who often participate in active literacy activities like taking education classes, writing letters or journals and in active mental activities like playing games and cards lower their dementia risk by nine to 11 percent over 10 years than their peers.

Creative pursuits and passive mental activities such as crafting, knitting or painting were associated with a seven percent decrease in risk.

Dementia describes a collection of symptoms caused by disorders affecting a person’s ability to memorise, reason, make judgement and thinking. In 2022, it was estimated that around 55 million people around the world were living with dementia, including 401,300 Australians. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimated that for Australians aged 65 and over, 84 people per 1,000 were living with dementia.

“Identifying strategies to prevent or delay dementia is a huge global priority,” said the study’s senior author, Associate Professor Joanne Ryan from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.

“We had a unique opportunity to close a gap in knowledge by investigating a broad range of lifestyle enrichment activities that older people often undertake and assess which of those were most strongly aligned with avoiding dementia.”

Lead author, Zimu Wu, drew data from 10,318 Australians aged 70 and older and found that cognitively stimulating activities are competitive in nature and involve complex strategies and problem-solving.

The study said activities like playing games, cards or chess require the use of cognitive domains, including episodic memory, visuospatial skills, calculation, executive function, attention, and concentration.

“These activities involve proactive engagement, critical thinking, logical reasoning, and social interaction,” the study said.

“The cognitive stimulation from such activities can increase resilience against brain pathologies by increasing the number of neurons, enhancing synaptic activity, and permitting higher efficiency in using brain networks.”

Meanwhile, literacy activities like computer usage and writing, which requires the processing of new information, utilise multiple cognitive functions and slow brain ageing.

“Writing is a complex process of information output transferring thoughts into texts and using most cognitive abilities,” the study added.

“Our findings are consistent with previous studies demonstrating that performing these activities is associated with less decline in general cognitive function and several cognitive domains (eg, memory, verbal fluency) among older individuals without dementia.”

Ms. Ryan said that active manipulation of previously stored knowledge may “play a greater role in dementia risk reduction than more passive recreational activities.”

“Keeping the mind active and challenged may be particularly important,” she said, reported the Monash Lens.

Ms. Ryan also noted that while engaging in literacy and mental acuity activities “may not be a magic pill to avoid dementia, if that was your goal and you had to choose, our research certainly suggests these are the activities most likely to support prolonged good cognitive health,”

“While engaging in literacy and mental acuity activities may not be a magic pill to avoid dementia if that was your goal and you had to choose, our research certainly suggests these are the activities most likely to support prolonged good cognitive health,” Ms. Ryan said.

The study, titled “Lifestyle enrichment in later life and its association with dementia risk,” was published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open on July 14.

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at [email protected].
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