Participating in arts and crafts activities and maintaining an active social life through old age could delay the onset of cognitive decline that often leads to dementia, according to a new US study.
"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," says author Rosebud Roberts, MB, ChB, MS, of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
Working with 256 participants whose average age was 87, all of which showed no cognitive decline at baseline, the researchers assessed their hobbies and lifestyles.
Participants' activities in the arts domain included painting, drawing and sculpting.
Crafts activities included woodworking, pottery, ceramics, quilting, quilling and sewing.
Many participants spent their social hours attending theater performances, movies, concerts, book clubs, Bible study classes and gatherings.
Computer activities such as internet surfing, online gaming and shopping were also taken into account.
It took 121 people an average of four years to develop mild cognitive impairment, yet those who pursued artistic endeavors in middle and old age were a whopping 73 percent less likely to do so.
Crafting in middle and old age reduced one's chances of developing mild cognitive impairment by 45 percent by comparison to those who didn't craft.
Participating regularly in social activities such as those mentioned reduced chances by 55 percent and online activities reduced them by 53 percent.
Regardless of hobby and lifestyle choices, genetic make-up, high blood pressure in middle age, depression and being in questionable cardiovascular health all increased the risk for developing mild cognitive impairment.
The study was published online in the journal Neurology, which in 2013 published a study suggesting that reading, writing and other brain stimulating activities could be useful in warding off cognitive decline.
"Our study suggests that exercising your brain by taking part in activities such as these across a person's lifetime, from childhood through old age, is important for brain health in old age," said study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
In that study, the research team assessed the memory and cognitive skills of 294 individuals every year for six years.
Mental activity, said the researchers, hindered cognitive decline by as much as 32 percent.
"Based on this, we shouldn't underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents," said Wilson.