In the developed world, we are aging rapidly. People age 85 and older make up the fastest growing age group in the United States and in other countries that trend will also increase.
Aging and aging well are not always the same thing, though, and issues like Alzheimer's are a concern. A new study of 256 people with an average age of 87 who were free of memory and thinking problems at the start of the study concluded that who participate in arts and craft activities and who socialize may delay the development in very old age of the thinking and memory problems that often lead to dementia.
After an average of four years, 121 people developed mild cognitive impairment. Participants who engaged in arts in both middle and old age were 73 percent less likely to develop MCI than those who did not report engaging in artistic activities. Those who crafted in middle and old age were 45 percent less likely to develop MCI and people who socialized in middle and old age were 55 percent less likely to develop MCI compared to those who did not engage in like activities. Computer use in later life was associated with a 53 percent reduced risk of MCI.
Risk factors such as having the APOE gene, having high blood pressure in middle age, depression and risk factors related to blood vessels increased the risk of developing MCI.
"As millions of older US adults are reaching the age where they may experience these memory and thinking problem called Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), it is important we look to find lifestyle changes that may stave off the condition," said Neurology study author Rosebud Roberts, MB, ChB, MS, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester. "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."