A new study from the American Academy of Neurology has found that mentally stimulating activities, such as using a computer, playing games, crafting, and participating in social activities, are linked to a lower risk or delay of age-related memory loss. The timing and number of these activities may also play a role in mild cognitive impairment (MCI), according to a press release.

MCI is a medical condition that is common with aging and is not the same as dementia, although it is linked to problems with thinking ability and memory. People who have MCI may have milder symptoms, such as struggling to complete complex tasks or having difficulty understanding information they have read, whereas people with dementia have trouble with daily tasks, such as dressing, bathing, and eating independently.

Researchers identified 2000 people with an average age of 78 years who did not have MCI. At the beginning of the study, participants completed a questionnaire about how often they took part in 5 types of mentally stimulating activities during middle-age, between the age of 50 and 65 years, or the age of 66 and older.

Participants were then given thinking and memory tests every 15 months and were followed for an average of 5 years, during which time 532 participants developed MCI.

The results showed that using a computer in middle-age was associated with a 48% lower risk of mild cognitive impairment. In total, 15 out of the 532 people who developed MCI used a computer in middle age compared with 77 of 1468 people without MCI.

Using a computer in later life was associated with a 30% lower risk of developing thinking and memory problems, and using a computer in both middle-age and later life was associated with a 37% lower risk for these cognitive issues.

Participating in social activities, such as going to the movies or playing cards, in both middle-age and later life were associated with a 20% lower risk of developing MCI. However, craft activities were associated with a 42% lower risk, but only later in life.

The more activities that people engaged in during later life was correlated with a less likely chance to develop MCI. Participants who engaged in 2 activities were 28% less likely to develop memory and thinking problems than those who took part in no activities, whereas those who took part in 3 activities were 45% less likely, those with 4 activities were 56% less likely, and those with 5 activities were 43% less likely.

“Our study was observational, so it is important to point out that while we found links between a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and various mentally stimulating activities, it is possible that instead of the activities lowering a person’s risk, a person with mild cognitive impairment may not be able to participate in these activities as often,” said study author Yonas Geda, MD, in a press release. “More research is needed to further investigate our findings.”

A study limitation was that the participants were asked to remember how often they participated in mentally stimulating activities in the middle-age group, up to 2 decades before the study started. With this, their memories may not have been completely accurate, according to the study.

Can computer use, crafts, and games slow or prevent age- related memory loss? American Academy of Neurology. https://www.aan.com/PressRoom/Home/PressRelease/2733. Published July 10, 2020. Accessed July 10, 2020.