Participating in arts, crafts, and social activities during middle and old age may help stave off symptoms of mild cognitive impairment in very old age, according to a new study published in Neurology.
The study, which included 256 people with an average age of 87, supports the idea that engagement of the mind may protect neurons and help to grow new ones, possibly helping to maintaining cognitive function throughout old age.
“As millions of older U.S. adults are reaching the age where they may experience these memory and thinking problem called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), it is important we look to find lifestyle changes that may stave off the condition,” said study author Rosebud Roberts, MB, ChB, MS, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Researchers monitored the activity of 256 cognitively-normal participants, who over the course of four years, may have participated in the arts, such as painting, drawing, and sculpting; crafts, such as woodworking, pottery, quilting, and sewing; social activities, like movie-going, concerts, book clubs, and travel; and internet activities, including computer games, web searches, and online shopping.
After an average of four years, 121 people developed mild cognitive impairment. Those that engaged in the arts in both middle and old age were 73% less likely (HR 0.27; p = 0.03) to develop MCI than those that did not participate in the arts. Those who crafted were 45% less likely (HR 0.55; p = 0.02) to develop MCI, those who socialized were 55% less likely (HR 0.45; p = 0.005) to develop MCI, and those who engaged in computer activities were 53% less likely (HR 0.47; p = 0.008) to develop MCI compared to those that did not engage in those activities.
Participants with the APOE ε4 allele (HR 1.89; p= 0.008), high blood pressure (HR 2.43; p = 0.005), depression (HR 1.78; p = 0.02), and other risk factors related to blood vessels (HR 1.13; p = 0.02) had an increased risk of developing MCI.
Although chronic disease burden increases the risk of MCI, the researchers recommend that lifestyle factors that promote engagement be introduced in midlife and continued throughout late life to exercise preventive strategies for MCI.