More evidence is now in, according to a possibly ground-breaking study published online July 3 in the journal Neurology: tackling brain-stimulating activities from childhood through old age can help delay the onset of memory loss. We need to keep our brain active by doing things, such as reading books, writing letters and solving problems throughout our lives.
The study was conducted by a team of neurologists, behavioral scientists and academic researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. The authors conclude that more frequent cognitive activity across the life span has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline that is independent of…other conditions.
Lead author, Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., explains how engaging in intellectually-challenging activities helps support brain function: The brain tries to constantly adapt to the challenges it’s asked to do. The brain is experience dependent. Activities that are sustained are going to impact its structure and function. And cognitive circuits that are elaborately structured and functioning very well are able to adapt when the inevitable onslaught of aging occurs. Wilson recommends finding real-world activities that include a combination of challenges and the need to focus and concentrate. He adds, Physical activity is also important.
Prashanthi Vemuri, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, encourages everyone to start developing their thinking and memory skills as early as possible. She advises, Parents should know that reading programs at a young age will help their kids have a good old age.
Reading, writing, game-playing and problem-solving with the children in your life—the main theme of this blog— clearly benefit all involved. Let’s continue to find ways to incorporate that type of cognitive activity into our days.
To that end, I would like to single out a book that lives up to the promise implicit in its title: UNBORED The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun. The tagline across the top of the book reads: Indoors/Outdoors/Online/Offline, an indication of its inclusivity. There is something (actually, more) that will interest everyone in this 350-page mega resource. This book is written for kids—though adults will be intrigued, as well—but kids will want or need to collaborate with adults on the various projects. While the book contains enlightening best-of lists, trivia and quizzes, the reader is prompted to make, do, create and experiment; it is definitely part of the DIY/Maker culture. This would be a great choice for a gifted child, someone who is being home schooled, a grandparent looking for ideas, a child with ADHD (there is a section that addresses this), almost anyone.
what a wonderful post Belinda. I found it enriching on so many levels – the power of readng, inter-generational interaction, and the importance of keep your mind active. I plan on using many of your suggestions to have fun with my own kids and grandkids. And keep up the book recommendations in future posts as well Belinda – I’ve really enjoyed several of your past choices.
Thanks for all your lovely comments, Barbara!
I just read this article in Neurology. I’ve always been a reader. How great to know that it has yet another benefit. I’m not sure that any cognitive activity can stave off Alzheimer’s. It strikes many who were lifelong intellectuals. But perhaps reading and staying mentally active can help with other forms of dementia. It certainly can’t hurt!
Susan, I think what is heartening about this study is that it provides support for the theory of “cognitive reserve.” Basically, this theory suggests that mental engagement builds up extra brain capacity which can compensate for whatever damage is accumulating; this won’t prevent Alzheimer’s—or other dementia—but it is shown to delay the symptoms. This explains why upon brain imaging or post-mortem examination, researchers find the physical signs of dementia, yet the person did not exhibit the symptoms. So it could be that those who have spent their lives in intellectual pursuits and developed Alzheimer’s would have exhibited clinical signs of dementia at an earlier point, if not for their brain-stimulating activities.
Also, this does not speak to other factors that increase our vulnerability to mental decline, such as genetics. Loneliness, anxiety and depression can also erode some of the “cognitive reserve.”
For those who might not enjoy reading and writing as much as we do, sustainable hobbies such as quilting, photography, community theater, playing an instrument, etc., can serve the same purpose in protecting the brain.
I have added it to the wish list — thanks for the great suggestion.
Hope you and Amara enjoy it!
Great post, great pictures!
Thanks, Maxie! Pics are of two of my favorite people.