WEDNESDAY, April 8, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Adults who pursue artistic,
craft and social activities may stay mentally sharp longer, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that older adults involved in these activities or those
who used a computer later in life were about half as likely to experience
mild dementia over the next four years.
"Engaging in cognitively stimulating activities has beneficial long-term
effects on cognitive [thinking] function," said study author Rosebud
Roberts, chair of the division of epidemiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The study could not show that these activities actually prevented declines
in thinking, but it found the risk was lower among those participating
in them. The findings were published in the April 8 online edition of
The researchers tracked 256 adults, aged 85 and older, over four years.
Nearly half developed mild dementia during that time.
Aside from differences in sex and education, those who took part in artistic
pursuits throughout midlife and late life were 73 percent less likely
to experience mild dementia.
Similarly, those involved in crafts and social activities both in midlife
and later life were about half as likely to experience mild dementia.
So were those who used computers in later life, the investigators found.
It's possible that sharper adults are more likely to seek out these
activities in the first place, but the findings still suggest the participation
contributes to brain health, Roberts said.
"We found that if you were engaged in these activities in midlife,
regardless of late life, or in both midlife and late life, your risk of
cognitive [thinking] decline was reduced," she said. "In the
few people who only began these activities in late life, there was also
a benefit, but this was not statistically different from those who never
participated in these activities."
Dr. Anton Porsteinsson, director of Alzheimer's Disease Care at the
University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York, said the findings
fit with past research showing that artistic and social activities appear
to help protect against mental decline.
"It's hard to say what's the chicken and what's the egg,
but there's emerging data that some kinds of creative, artistic activity
may stimulate certain parts of your brain that are more vulnerable to
damage through the aging process," he said.
The researchers also found risk factors linked to a higher risk of mental decline.
Those with depressive symptoms were almost twice as likely to develop mild
cognitive impairment as those without symptoms. These symptoms may be
part of the degenerative processes of the brain or a response to a person's
awareness that their memory is failing, Roberts said, but the reason for
the association between depression and dementia isn't clear.
Further, those who developed high blood pressure (hypertension) in midlife
were more than twice as likely to develop thinking problems, the study
found. Having vascular diseases increased risk of mild dementia 13 percent,
and having other chronic conditions increased the risk by 8 percent.
However, the study could only show an association between these risk factors
and dementia, not a cause-and-effect.
"Hypertension and vascular diseases can have an effect on small blood
vessels that supply the brain tissue, gradually reducing the transport
of oxygen and fuel to those brain cells, and eventually resulting in death
of larger and larger portions of the brain," said Dr. Vernon Williams,
a neurologist and director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain
Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.
Past research has found that other factors that may protect against mental
decline include exercise, a healthy diet and engagement in group activities
such as book clubs, Bible studies and organized discussion groups, Roberts
said. Participants in the new study who exercised three to four times
a week had lower risks of thinking impairment, but those results were
not statistically significant, she added.
Williams said the study highlights important strategies for potentially
improving neurologic health and function throughout life. The currently
aging population is already at risk for mental decline, needing assistance
and reduced quality of life, he added.
"We should look at this as another example of the importance of promoting
neurologic health across the life span," Williams said. "It's
not all doom and gloom. Optimistic and positive outcomes can be used to
encourage and promote positive behavioral changes at every stage of life."
Alzheimer's Association for more on dementia.
SOURCES: Rosebud Roberts, M.B., Ch.B., M.S., professor and chair, division
of epidemiology, department of health sciences research, Mayo Clinic,
Rochester, Minn.; Anton Porsteinsson, M.D., professor, psychiatry, and
director, Alzheimer's Disease Care, Research and Education Program,
University of Rochester School of Medicine, Rochester, N.Y.; Vernon Williams,
M.D., neurologist and director, Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine,
Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic, Los Angeles; April, 8, 2015,