So is Texas Hold 'Em the key to a healthy brain in old age? Yes, though crossword puzzles and playing music worked as well. But you can't gloat over a crossword puzzle.
The study involved 488 people aged 75 to 85 who did not have dementia at the start of the study. They were followed for an average of five years and during that time 101 of the subjects developed dementia.
At the beginning of the study, people reported how often they participated in six leisure activities that engage the brain: reading, writing, crossword puzzles, board games, card games, group discussions and playing music.
For each activity, daily participation was rated at seven points, several days a week was rated at four points, and weekly participation was rated at one point.
The average was seven points total for those who later developed dementia, meaning they took part in one of the six activities each day, on average. Ten people reported no activities, and 11 reported only one activity per week.
The researchers then looked at the point when memory loss, a sign of dementia, started accelerating rapidly for the participants. They found that for every additional activity a person participated in, the onset of rapid memory loss was delayed by 0.18 years.
"The point of accelerated decline was delayed by 1.29 years for the person who participated in 11 activities per week compared to the person who participated in only four activities per week," said study author Charles B. Hall, PhD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, NY.
The results remained valid after researchers factored in the education level of the participants. "The effect of these activities in late life appears to be independent of education," Hall said. "These activities might help maintain brain vitality. Further studies are needed to determine if increasing participation in these activities could prevent or delay dementia."