Lifestyle choices appear to be more important than other factors, such as family history, in preventing dementia. Incorporating a variety of activities into your daily routine can significantly improve your ability to avoid mental decline as you age. Because there are currently no highly effective treatments for cognitive decline, prevention is especially important. According to a new study from Simon Fraser University, older adults who participate in a variety of activities can reduce their risk of developing dementia.
The researchers discovered that engaging in a combination of hobbies, such as light exercise and connecting with loved ones, can reduce memory decline in adults aged 65 to 89 more than any single activity. Their findings, published in the journal Aging, show that engaging in a combination of activities increased with age and had a greater impact than historical factors like education level or baseline memory.
Every year, the number of adults over the age of 65 grows, which leads to an increase in cases of cognitive decline, dementia, and other age-related disorders. But there is some good news: Researchers from Simon Fraser University and the National Institute of Aging in Canada discovered that combining multiple daily activities has a significantly stronger effect on memory decline than limiting yourself to just one or two types of daily activities. They also discovered that the beneficial effects of participating in a variety of different daily activities increase with age and that participation in multiple activities has a greater positive impact on memory than factors like family and personal histories, baseline memory at the start of the study, or education level.
Approximately 55 million people have dementia, and with an aging population, this number will nearly triple by 2050. Our study results show that the risk of developing dementia can be reduced through a combination of active, daily activities, such as using a computer and playing word games.Sylvain Moreno
The research looked at data from the National Institute on Aging’s Health and Retirement Study, which included 3,210 people aged 65 to 89. Participants in the study were asked how frequently they engaged in 33 activities ranging from ‘never’ to ‘at least once a month’ to ‘several times a month’ up to ‘daily.’
Researchers developed a machine learning model to assess the impact of activities on memory. Activities included baking or cooking, reading, playing cards and games, walking for 20 minutes, and communicating with family and friends via letters, email, phone calls, or in-person visits.
“Our study results show that the risk of developing dementia can be reduced through a combination of active, daily activities, such as using a computer and playing word games,” says study co-author Sylvain Moreno, an associate professor at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) and the CEO/scientific director of the Digital Health Circle, which is based at SFU.
“Scientists previously believed that genetics was the most important factor influencing cognitive health, but our findings show the opposite. With age, your daily activities become more important than your genetics or current cognitive abilities” Moreno continues.
According to the researchers, the findings of their study could have a significant impact on aging health policies, such as promoting new social prescribing programs to help older adults stay mentally active into their senior years.
Social prescribing entails connecting older adults to a variety of community activities such as gardening, art classes, and volunteering. Because older adults are more likely to develop dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders for which there is no cure, prevention is critical.
“Today, approximately 55 million people have dementia, and with an aging population, this number will nearly triple by 2050,” Moreno says. “Care for dementia patients is difficult, labor-intensive, and chronic, resulting in high costs for health-care systems.”
When assessing older adults for dementia, researchers discover that relevant test scores decline by 10 to 35 percent between the ages of 50 and 85. Preventing dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders is especially important because there are no cures and only a few effective treatments or solutions available. Caring for those with chronic and degenerative diseases poses significant and costly challenges for both families and healthcare institutions.
The majority of research focuses on drug treatments for people who already have dementia. It makes more sense on every level to use preventative strategies to help older adults maintain healthy and functional cognition for as long as possible, the researchers point out.
Understanding the risk factors for dementia can help you make decisions about potential risk-reduction strategies. Risk factors can be classified into several categories. Their research shows that prevention strategies work and that a social prescribing approach to healthcare can help people maintain healthy cognitive function as they age.