People who participate in arts and craft activities and socialise in middle and old age may delay the development of thinking and memory problems that often lead to dementia in very old age, according to a new study.
"Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age," said study author Rosebud Roberts, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
The study involved 256 people with an average age of 87 who were free of memory and thinking problems at the start of the study.
The participants reported their participation in arts, such as painting, drawing and sculpting; crafts, like woodworking, pottery ceramics quilting, quilling and sewing; social activities, such as going to the theatre, movies, concerts, socialising with friends, book clubs, Bible study and travel; and computer activities such as using the internet, computer games, conducting web searches and online purchases.
After an average of four years, 121 people developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Participants who engaged in arts in both middle and old age were 73% less likely to develop MCI than those who did not report engaging in artistic activities.
Those who crafted in middle and old age were 45% likely to develop MCI and people who socialised in middle and old age were 55% less likely to develop MCI compared to those who did not engage in like activities.
Computer use in later life was associated with a 53% reduced risk of MCI.
The study found that risk factors such as having the APOE gene, having high blood pressure in middle age, depression and risk factors related to blood vessels increased the risk of developing MCI.
The study was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.