According to the American Academy of Neurology, a new study found that there is a lot you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline. Researchers discovered ways to help create a “cognitive reserve” that provides a buffer against the disease.
They found that factors, such as taking part in clubs, religious groups, sports, or artistic activities, along with higher education by age 26, occupation, and reading ability, may affect the brain’s cognitive reserve. The study suggests that continuing to learn over a lifetime may help protect the brain, which is true even for people who have lower cognitive scores in childhood, said the release.
“These results are exciting because they indicate that cognitive ability is subject to factors throughout our lifetime and taking part in an intellectually, socially and physically active lifestyle may help ward off cognitive decline and dementia,” said study author Dorina Cadar, a senior lecturer in cognitive epidemiology and dementia at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School in the U.K. “It’s heartening to find that building one’s cognitive reserve may offset the negative influence of low childhood cognition for people who might not have benefited from an enriching childhood and offer stronger mental resilience until later in life.”
The project monitored 1,184 people born in 1946 in the U.K, says Study Finds. They took cognitive tests at age eight, and then again at age 69. The researchers also used a cognitive reserve index score that combined the subjects’ education level at age 26, their participation in leisure activities at age 43, and their occupation up to age 53. Reading skills at age 53 were also gauged as a measure of overall life learning, considered separately from their education and occupation.
The researchers found that higher childhood cognitive skills, a higher cognitive reserve index, and higher reading ability were all linked to higher scores on the cognitive test at age 69. Those with higher levels of education scored 1.22 points higher than those with no formal education. People who engaged in six or more leisure activities such as adult education classes, gardening, or volunteer work, scored 1.53 points higher than those who only participated in up to four leisure activities. And people with a professional or intermediate job level scored 1.5 points more on average than those who worked at jobs deemed partly skilled or unskilled.
Better readers also had a slower cognitive decline, said the researchers, regardless of childhood test scores.
“From a public health and societal perspective, there may be broad, long-term benefits in investing in high education, widening opportunities for leisure activities and providing cognitive challenging activities for people, especially for those working in less skilled occupations,” said Michal Schnaider-Beeri, a professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who wrote the editorial that accompanied the study.
The researchers noted the participants who stayed with the study until the age of 69 tended to be healthier and have stronger overall thinking skills than those who did not. They were also more socially active so the results may not reflect the general population, says Study Finds.
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