From Our 2009 Archives

Puzzles, Games Protect the Brain

Mental Stimulation Delays the Start of Memory Decline, Study Shows

By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 5, 2009 -- If you are trying to decide what to buy Grandma and Grandpa for their birthdays, consider a board game or good book. Why? A recent study shows that increased participation in activities that stimulate the brain may delay onset of dementia-related memory decline in older seniors.

Researchers used information from the Bronx Aging Study, which included data on 488 people who were between the ages of 75 and 85 at the start of the study.

At the start of the study, participants did not have dementia. They reported how often they participated in six mentally stimulating activities: reading, writing, doing crossword puzzles, playing a board or card game, participating in a group discussion, or playing music.

Researchers analyzed data on the 101 participants in the study who developed dementia over an average follow-up time of five years.

The more mentally active the person was, the longer it took for the onset of accelerated memory decline to show up.

For each activity, such as reading or playing games, the participant ranked his or her level of participation as daily, several days a week, or weekly. Daily got seven points, several times a week got four points, and weekly got one point. Occasional or no activity received no points.

The median point total was seven among the group that developed dementia. When researchers looked at the time that memory decline started accelerating rapidly for each participant, they found that each additional activity day was linked to a delay in the onset of memory decline by 0.18 years.

"The point of accelerated decline was delayed by 1.29 years for the person who participated in 11 activities per week compared to the person who participated in only four activities per week," study author Charles B. Hall, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says in a written statement.

This phenomenon held up even after researchers factored in education.

SOURCES: Hall, C.B., Neurology, Aug. 4, 2009; vol 73: pp 356-361. News release, American Academy of Neurology.

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