Interest in maintaining youthful cognitive function and preserving precious memories is intensifying as a growing number of baby boomers reach their 60s — an age where more people begin to experience cognitive decline. Now, the author of a study published in the edition of Neurology says he has discovered a key to preserving cognitive function — reading and participating in brain-stimulating activities.
Almost half of all boomers say their biggest fear of aging is losing mental and brain capacity, not dying, according to the Natural Marketing Institute 2011 Study. It is estimated that 5.2 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, of which 5 million are age 65 and older. This number is expected to almost triple by the year 2050 to 13.8 million.
All of this leads to a tremendous financial, emotional and physical burden on individuals, families and the nation. Caregivers of those with dementia or cognitive decline are often overloaded by these burdens. Tending to these patients with dementias will cost approximately $203 billion during 2013 and this number is expected to reach an astonishing $1.2 trillion by 2050.
The current study led by Robert S. Wilson, PhD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, evaluated the memory and thinking ability of 294 people every year for a period of six years before their deaths at an average age of 89. The study author tracked participants’ involvement in mentally stimulating activities — like reading and writing — during childhood, adolescence, middle age and at their current age by questionnaires. Upon death, the study participants’ brains were examined at autopsy for lesions, plaques and tangles, which are physical signs of dementia.
What the researcher found was that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities both early and late in life experienced better memory recall than those who did not participate in those activities. Remarkably, those who participated in mentally stimulating activities frequently reduced their rate of cognitive decline by 32 percent when compared to those with average activity. Participants who seldom participated in mentally stimulating activities experienced a 48 percent greater decline than participants with average activity.
The results of the study suggest that cognitive exercises may be as important for your brain as physical exercise is for your body — particularly when maintained from childhood to elder years.
Some popular brain fitness exercises include reading, writing, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and memory recall games. In addition, you can challenge your brain by learning a new language or skill and even by performing ordinary tasks with your non-dominant hand.