One of the unwanted things associated with growing old is cognitive decline with 25 to 50 percent of adults 85 years old and over showing signs of Alzheimer's disease, a condition marked by progressive memory impairment.

Keeping your brain busy by reading, playing music and using the computer though may increase your chances of being mentally fit in your old age. A new study suggests that people with mentally stimulating lifestyle are more likely to be protected from cognitive problems later in life than their counterparts who do not engage in brain stimulating activities.

For the study "Association of Lifetime Intellectual Enrichment With Cognitive Decline in the Older Population," which was published in the JAMA Neurology on June 23, the researchers followed 1,995 men and women without dementia who were between 80 and 89 years old, who participated in a Mayo Clinic Study of Aging between 2004 and 2009, to assess the effects of engaging in mind stimulating activities on cognitive decline later on in life.

The researchers found that for participants who had more education years and had jobs in a brain stimulating environment, onset of cognitive decline is delayed by five years compared with people who had less education and engaged in manual jobs.

Study author Prashanthi Vemuri, from the Mayo Clinic and Foundation in Rochester, Minnesota, however, said that engaging in mentally stimulating activities later on in life can have a positive impact to those with less education and had less intellect-stimulating jobs.

The researchers found that irrespective of work and educational backgrounds, individuals who stimulate their brains for a minimum of three times in a week by doing activities such as solving crossword puzzles, reading, painting, playing instruments and playing video games, appear to delay the start of cognitive decline by over three years when compared to those who engage less in these activities.

"Individuals with greater educational/occupational 'brain reserve' are more resistant to the effects of cognitive decline," said Kevin Duff, a neuropsychologist from the University of Utah Health Care in Salt Lake City. "However, if you don't get this reserve early in life, then it appears that cognitive stimulating activities in mid/late life can also have beneficial effects."

Vemuri advised those who had less education early in life to adopt a mentally stimulating lifestyle as this could help delay the onset of cognitive decline.

"Lifetime intellectual enrichment might delay the onset of cognitive impairment and be used as a successful preventive intervention to reduce the impending dementia epidemic," Vemuri and colleagues concluded.

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