To keep the brain healthy, it is important to keep it at its best for as long as possible and to minimize the risk of cognitive problems over the years. A study confirms that intellectual activities such as reading and playing board games help the brain maintain its full capacity and, above all, that it is never too late to practice them - quite the contrary.

Keeping, your, brain, active, can, delay, dementia, by, 5, years

As for the body, it is important to keep our brain active. Because it too can retain, and even recover, the agility lost as we age, provided we take on a minimum of intellectual challenges that allow it to build up its muscles. Many studies have shown that intellectual exercise helps maintain brain health by preventing the loss of cognitive functions and skills such as memory, reasoning and judgment. A new study published in the journal Neurology indicates that even simple activities such as reading, writing, playing card games or doing puzzles later in life can delay the onset of dementia for up to five years.

"The good news is that it's never too late to start doing the accessible and inexpensive activities examined in our study," says first author Prof. Robert S. Wilson of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "Our results suggest that it may be beneficial to start doing these things, even at age 80, to delay the onset of Alzheimer's-type dementia." The study involved 1,978 people with a mean age of 80 years and no diagnosis of dementia at the start of the study, followed for an average of seven years. To assess their risk of dementia over time, participants underwent annual examinations that included a number of cognitive tests.

Five more years for intellectually active seniors

At the beginning of the study, participants rated their involvement in seven different types of activities on a five-point scale. Questions included, for example, "in the past year, how often did you read books?" or "in the past year, how often did you play games such as checkers, board games, cards, or puzzles?" They were also given a questionnaire about their cognitive activity during childhood, adulthood and middle age. The researchers then averaged each person's answers, assigning them a score ranging from 1 (once a year or less) to 5 (every day or almost every day).

Specifically, those in the high cognitive activity group averaged 4.0, meaning activities several times a week, compared to an average score of 2.1 for those with low cognitive activity, meaning activities several times a year. During the study's follow-up period, 457 people with an average age of 89 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia. But it turns out that people with the highest activity levels developed dementia at age 94, while those with the lowest cognitive activity developed dementia at age 89: a difference of five years.

The importance of engaging in these activities as we age

These results were similar even when the researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as education level and gender. To test the idea that low cognitive activity may be an early sign of dementia, not the other way around, the researchers also examined the brains of 695 people who died during the study. The brain tissue was examined for markers of Alzheimer's disease, such as deposits of amyloid and tau proteins. But they found no association between their level of cognitive activity and markers of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders in their brains.

"People who engage in cognitively stimulating activities may delay the age at which they develop dementia," adds Prof. Robert Wilson. "Importantly, after controlling for the level of cognitive activity in late life, neither education nor cognitive activity in early life was associated with the age at which a person developed Alzheimer's dementia." In conclusion, the study suggests that the link between intellectual activity and the age at which a person develops dementia would be primarily determined by activities performed later in life. However, further studies will be needed to determine whether the findings apply to the general population.