Staying Mentally Stimulated Throughout Your Lifetime Could Lower Cognitive Decline Risk

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Staying mentally stimulated could help lower your risk of cognitive decline later in life -- no matter your age.

Researchers from Rush University Medical Center found that people who reported doing brain exercises such as reading and writing throughout their lifetimes -- from childhood through adulthood -- had slower memory decline later in life.

"Based on this, we shouldn't underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents," study researcher Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., said in a statement.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, included 294 people whose memory and thinking skills were tested every year for an average of six years before their death (they died at an average age of 89). Researchers also asked them when they were alive about their lifelong habits of reading, writing and doing other mentally stimulating things.

After the participants died, researchers conducted autopsies on their brains to see if they had any tangles or plaques in their brains that could account for memory or thinking problems. Even after taking these into account, researchers found that staying mentally active still seemed to make a difference against mental decline.

Researchers found that the mental decline rate was 32 percent lower among people who frequently stayed mentally active in old age, versus people who only stayed mentally active at an average rate in old age. Plus, researchers found that people who were mentally inactive had a mental decline rate 48 percent faster, versus those who stayed mentally active at an average rate in old age.

"This finding potentially addresses a question that all of us ask from time to time—can we do anything to slow down late-life cognitive decline? The results suggest yes -- read more books, write more, and do activities that keep your brain busy irrespective of your age," Prashanthi Vemuri, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic, and Elizabeth C. Mormino, Ph.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, who were not involved in the study, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

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