Arts and Crafts in Middle Age May Reduce Alzheimer's Risk

Engaging in crafty activities in middle age may curb the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) later in life.

Engaging in crafty activities in middle age may curb the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) later in life.

For a study published in Neurology, researchers set out to determine which factors affect MCI among those aged ≥85 years. MCI, which has been linked to risk for Alzheimer’s disease, was measured at baseline and 15 monthly intervals.

The 256 participants filled out a questionnaire assessing their lifestyle factors in midlife and old age. The researchers also collected data on vascular and comorbid conditions from the participants’ medical records. The median age of the study group was around 87 years, and women comprised 62% of it.

Of the 256 individuals, 121 developed MCI at about 4 years of follow-up on average.

Compared with those who did not engage in crafty activities, individuals who participated in art such as painting, drawing, and sculpting in middle and old age were 73% less likely to develop MCI. Those involved in crafts such as woodworking, pottery, quilting, and sewing during middle and old age were 45% less likely to develop MCI. Socializing in both middle and old age led to a 55% reduction in MCI risk.

In addition, using computers later in life was linked with a 53% MCI risk reduction, compared with those who did not use computers.

In the study, predictors for MCI included depressive symptoms, hypertension developed during middle age, greater number of vascular diseases, chronic conditions from the Charlson Comorbidity Index, and the ApoE gene.

The researchers emphasized starting preventive strategies for MCI in midlife and continuing as individuals age.

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