Reading, writing letters and card games can delay dementia

Keeping your brain active in old age has always been a smart idea, but a new study suggests that reading, writing letters and playing card games or puzzles in later life may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia by up to five years.

That could be good news for many Australians, with recent research from Roy Morgan finding that puzzle magazines are now read by over two million Aussies, up 492,000, or 30.8 per cent, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Dr Robert Wilson from Rush University, who was part of the team on the dementia research, it is never too late to reap the benefits of taking up these activities to try and stave off Alzheimer’s.

Read more: Calculator predicts your risk of dementia

“The good news is that it’s never too late to start doing the kinds of inexpensive, accessible activities we looked at in our study,” Dr Wilson said.

“Our findings suggest it may be beneficial to start doing these things, even in your 80s, to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia.”

The study looked at 1978 people with an average age of 80 who did not have dementia at the start of the study. The people were followed for an average of seven years.

To determine if they had developed dementia, participants were given annual examinations, which included a number of cognitive tests.

Read more: The source of a super memory in old age

When the study began, people rated their participation in seven activities on a five-point scale. The questions included: “During the past year, how often did you read books?” and “During the past year, how often did you play games like checkers, board games, cards or puzzles?”

Participants also answered questions about cognitive activity in childhood, adulthood and middle age.

Read more: Aussie scientists discover non-invasive Alzheimer’s treatment

Researchers then averaged each person’s responses, with a score of one meaning once a year or less and score of five meaning every day or almost every day.

People in the group with high cognitive activity scored an average of 4.0, which meant activities several times per week, compared to an average score of 2.1 for those with low cognitive activity, which meant activities several times per year.

During the study follow-up period, 457 people with an average age of 89 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia.

People with the highest levels of activity, on average, developed dementia at age 94. The people with the lowest cognitive activity, on average, developed dementia at age 89, a difference of five years.

The results were similar when researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as education level and sex.

“Our study shows that people who engage in more cognitively stimulating activities may be delaying the age at which they develop dementia,” Dr Wilson said.

“It is important to note, after we accounted for late life level of cognitive activity, neither education nor early life cognitive activity were associated with the age at which a person developed Alzheimer’s dementia.

“Our research suggests that the link between cognitive activity and the age at which a person developed dementia is mainly driven by the activities you do later in life.”

How often do you do puzzles and play card games? Do you think you do enough mentally stimulating tasks on a daily basis? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking
Ben Hocking is a skilled writer and editor with interests and expertise in politics, government, Centrelink, finance, health, retirement income, superannuation, Wordle and sports.
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