Mentally challenging activities key to a healthy aging mind

  • A small study shows significant changes in brain activity among older adults engaged in learning a cognitively demanding skill.

A study involving 39 older adults has found that those randomly assigned to a “high-challenge” group showed improved cognitive performance and more efficient brain activity compared with those assigned to a low-challenge group, or a control group.

The high-challenge group spent at least 15 hours a week for 14 weeks learning progressively more difficult skills in digital photography, quilting, or a combination of both. The low-challenge group met to socialize and engage in activities related to subjects such as travel and cooking. The placebo group engaged in low-demand cognitive tasks such as listening to music, playing simple games, or watching classic movies.

The high-challenge group demonstrated increased neural efficiency in judging words, shown by lowered brain activity when word judgments were easy and increasing activity when they became hard. This is a pattern of response typical of young adults, and was not seen in them before the intervention, or among those in the other groups. To some extent, these changes were still seen a year later.

Moreover, there was a dose-dependent effect — meaning, those who spent more time engaging in the high-challenge activities showed the greatest brain changes.

So did those who were oldest, perhaps because their brains were most in need, perhaps because they were the most disengaged. Most likely, perhaps, because both of these were true.

The bottom line, though, is that, while all mental stimulation is good in terms of building cognitive reserve, actively learning, and really pushing yourself, is what you need to get to, or keep at, the top of your game.


Related News

A ten-year study involving 2,092 older adults (average age 76) has found that people tended to lose awareness of memory problems two to three years before the onset of dementia.

A large, five-year study challenges the idea that omega-3 fatty acids can slow age-related cognitive decline.

A large, two-year study challenges the evidence that regular exercise helps prevent age-related cognitive decline.

A study involving 97 healthy older adults (65-89) has found that those with the “Alzheimer’s gene” (APOe4) who didn’t engage in much physical activity showed a decrease in hippocampal volume (3%) over 18 months.

An Indian study involving 648 dementia patients, of whom 391 were bilingual, has found that, overall, bilingual patients developed dementia 4.5 years later than the monolingual ones. There was no additional advantage to speaking more than two languages.

A study, involving 371 patients with mild cognitive impairment, has found that those with depressive symptoms had higher levels of amyloid-beta, particularly in the frontal cortex and the anterior and posterior

A study involving 206 spousal and adult children caregivers of dementia sufferers (mostly Alzheimer’s) has found that about 84% of caregivers reported a clinically significant burden. Three factors were significant contributors to the burden:

A study involving 254 people with dementia living at home has found that 99% of people with dementia and 97% of their caregivers had one or more unmet needs, 90% of which were safety-related.

A new U.S. study suggests that Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are markedly under-reported on death certificates and medical records. Death certificates tend to only provide an immediate cause, such as pneumonia, and don’t mention the underlying condition that provoked it.

It’s often argued that telling people that they carry genes increasing their risk of Alzheimer’s will simply upset them to no purpose. A new study challenges that idea.


Subscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest newsSubscribe to Latest health news