What Arts, Crafts and Computer Use Might Do for Your Mind

Mild cognitive impairment in old age may decrease with hobbies that keep minds active

(RxWiki News) Book clubs, painting classes and computer games are just a few fun ways to spend retirement. And such mind-engaging activities may also do wonders for older people's mental health.

A recent study found that people who used computers and took part in arts, crafts, and social activities in middle and old age were less likely to have thinking and memory problems later in life.

"As millions of older US adults are reaching the age where they may experience these memory and thinking problems called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), it is important we look to find lifestyle changes that may stave off the condition," said lead study author Rosebud O. Roberts, MB, ChB, MS, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, in a press release. "Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age."

Roberts and colleagues studied 256 people with an average age of 87. These patients did not have memory or thinking problems at the start of the study. Almost half developed MCI four years later.

MCI involves problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are more serious than normal, age-related changes. MCI may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other neurologic conditions.

Patients who said they engaged in arts, crafts, and social activities in midlife and late life had a much lower risk of MCI, Roberts and team found. Those activities included painting, drawing, sculpting, pottery, quilting, sewing, book clubs, and going to movies and concerts, among others. The same was true for patients who used computers in late life for Web searches and games.

On the other hand, people who had high blood pressure in midlife and other problems like vascular disease and depression were more likely to have MCI in old age, Roberts and team found.

"Our findings suggest that strategies to reduce risk of MCI in the oldest old should include prevention and efficient management of vascular and other chronic diseases earlier in life," Roberts and team wrote. "These nonpharmacologic interventions may have greatest benefit when initiated early and maintained. Furthermore, these efforts should begin in young adulthood or midlife, and should persist throughout late life."

Teaching the public about the link between chronic diseases and the risk of cognitive problems may lead to needed lifestyle changes and encourage people to stick with their treatments, Roberts and team said.

"Long ago, 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' was a common expression, suggesting that eating well could improve health," wrote Dr. James E. Galvin, of the NYU Langone Medical Center, in an editorial about this study. "Perhaps today the expression should expand to include painting an apple, going to the store with a friend to buy an apple, and using an Apple product."

The study and editorial were published April 8 in the journal Neurology.

The National Institute on Aging, the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research and the Rochester Epidemiology Project funded this research. The authors received research support from Cephalon, Allon Therapeutics, the National Institute on Aging, the Alzheimer's Association and others.

Review Date: 
April 8, 2015