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Mentally engaging activities have been long been promoted for staving off dementia, but there isn't a lot of information about whether doing them late in life is effective in preventing mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a precursor of dementia. To help fill that gap, researchers from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging followed 956 men and 973 women ages 70 or older who had normal scores on mental function tests. The participants answered periodic questionnaires detailing whether and how often they read books, did craft projects, used a computer, played games, and engaged in social activities like going out to movies and plays. They also underwent neurologic exams and completed tests to assess mental function. Over an average of four years, 456 participants developed mild cognitive impairment.
When the researchers analyzed the results, they found that playing games, doing craft projects, using a computer, and engaging in social activities were associated with a significant reduction in the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.
The study, published online Jan. 30, 2017, by JAMA Neurology, did not determine why some mentally stimulating activities, like using a computer, might decrease the risk of developing MCI more than other activities, like reading books. The researchers speculated that some activities require specific technical and manual skills that help ward off cognitive decline.