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Keeping the brain active with social activities and using a computer may help older people reduce their risk of developing memory and thinking problems, according to new research.
More than 850,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia. Yet, around 63 per cent of over-70s now spend 11-30 hours per week online, which could lead to a significant reduction in the numbers of people developing age-related problems.
Dr Clare Walton, research manager at Alzheimer’s Society said: “There is increasing evidence that staying mentally and socially active is an important way to keep our brains healthy as we age. This could include activities such as regularly doing puzzles, trying out arts and crafts or joining a book group.
“Although this research is only preliminary, it should be encouraging to today’s generation of silver surfers that using a computer might also help to keep memory sharp.
“Dementia, however, is a complex condition and we do not know what effect these activities have on the risk of developing it. Currently, the best evidence for reducing your risk of dementia is to exercise regularly, avoid smoking and eating a healthy, balanced diet.”
The study involved 1,929 people, age 70 and older who all had normal memory and thinking abilities at the start of the study.
Participants were asked how often they engaged in mentally stimulating activities such as computer use, reading, crafting and social activities and were followed for an average of four years to see whether they developed any memory or thinking impairments.
Those who reported using a computer once per week or more were 42 per cent less likely to develop memory and thinking problems than those who did not.
Engaging in weekly social activities and craft activities such as knitting or reading magazines were also less likely to develop memory problems by 23 per cent, 16 per cent and 30 per cent, respectively.
Similarly, those who played games were 14 per cent less likely to develop memory problems.
Furthermore, Alzheimer's Society recently funded researchers at King's College London to test whether participating in brain training games improved cognitive function in older people.
Researchers found that playing games which challenged individuals on their reasoning and problem solving skills, supported those aged 60 and over with their daily activities. The researchers also found improvements in reasoning and verbal learning skills in those aged over 50.
Study author Dr Janina Krell-Roesch, of Mayo Clinic in Arizona said: “The results show the importance of keeping the mind active as we age.
“While this study only shows association, not cause and effect, as people age, they may want to consider participating in activities like these because they may keep a mind healthier for longer.”
The study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 68th Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Canada.