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Good news for crossword lovers: they would be effective in preventing dementia according to a new study. Indeed, researchers have identified the best activities to fight against cognitive decline. Here they are.

Millions of people around the world have dementia, a chronic neurodegenerative condition that impairs memory and cognitive abilities. There are different types of dementia, including:

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Among the many studies on the subject, a study by Monash University in Australia, published on July 14 on JAMA, showed that people who frequently engage in brain-stimulating activities (reading, crossword , chess) are less likely to develop a form of dementia. After analyzing data from 10,318 Australians aged 70 and over, researchers were able to establish the benefits of different hobbies in warding off dementia in the elderly.

We had a unique opportunity to fill a knowledge gap by studying a wide range of activities older people often engage in, and assess which are most likely to prevent dementia.“said co-author Joanne Ryan who leads the Biological Neuropsychiatry and Dementia Research Unit within the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (SPHPM).

What are the best hobbies to prevent dementia?

Although it has been proven that stimulating intellectual activities improve cognitive functions and reduce the risk of dementia, very few studies have looked at both social and cognitive activities on the elderly, regardless of their level of education and their state of health. The various leisure activities assessed during the study are:

  • THE learning and reflection activities such as adult classes, computer use, or keeping a diary
  • THE mental acuity activities such as crosswords, card games and chess
  • THE creative hobbies like knitting or painting
  • more passive activities such as following the news, reading or listening to music
  • there socializationmeet friends and interact with them for example
  • THE exits like going to a restaurant, museum or cinema

At the top of the list are tasks that stimulate mental acuity and thinking, such as doing crossword puzzles or taking classes. The risk of developing a form of dementia decreases by 9 to 11% for people who engage in these activities. This is followed by creative hobbies and more passive activities such as reading, which reduce the risk of dementia by 7%. “I think our results tell us that active manipulation of previously stored knowledge may play a greater role in reducing dementia risk than more passive recreational activities. It can be especially important to keep the brain active and stimulated“explains Dr. Ryan.

Finally, maintaining many social relationships and going outside on a regular basis did not significantly reduce the risk of dementia according to the results. Note, however, that the study participants probably led an active social life. Thus, the benefits of socialization against cognitive decline would not be as apparent as for people who are more socially isolated. In addition, social connections are important for mental health and should not be overlooked!

No ‘magic pill’ for dementia

Joanne Ryan stresses all the same that the results of the study are limited by many factors. There is also a genetic component not negligible.

While engaging in activities related to intellectual enrichment and mental acuity is not a magic pill for avoiding dementia, if that was your goal and you had to choose, our research certainly suggests that these are the activities most likely to support prolonged good cognitive health“, she said.

Source : Lifestyle Enrichment in Later Life and Its Association With Dementia Risk, JAMA Network OpenJuly 14, 2023

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