Mental activity throughout the lifetime may maintain mental clarity and protect against cognitive decline, according to a recent Mayo Clinic report. The report was a result of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, which is a longitudinal study of cognition and aging in Olmsted County, Minnesota. A total of 1,995 participants without dementia who were between 70 years old and 89 years old were enrolled in 2004, 2008 and 2009 and they completed a self-report questionnaire on education, occupation and mid-to late-life cognitive activity. Mid-to late-life cognitive activities were assessed for the prior 12 months and during the middle-age years of 50 to 65 years old. Subjects also participated in a follow-up visit.
Education and occupation responses were scored and ranked according to conventional levels of required cognitive activity. As expected, higher education and occupation scores were associated with higher levels of cognitive performance. Also, higher levels of mid-to late-life mental activity were associated with higher levels of cognitive performance. These results supported the authors’ conclusion that a lifetime of intellectual enrichment might delay cognitive impairment and should be considered as a possible preventive intervention for the onset of dementia. Stating the Mayo Clinic report findings with a more positive twist, mental activity throughout the lifetime can help to maintain mental clarity.
In this study, lifetime intellectual enrichment was seen as having two components. The first component was early to mid-life activities related to education and occupation. The second component was mid-life to late-life intellectual activities. The study results showed that those with a low education/occupation score received more benefit from mid-/late-life mental activity than those with a high education/occupation score. This result was said to be intriguing by the authors. This result might suggest that playing cards at an older age might be more beneficial, in terms of protecting against dementia, if one was an assembly line worker rather than a professor of math during their working years.
However, those with a higher education and occupation score were found to have about 5 years of extra protection against dementia when the level of mental activity was held constant in the analysis. This means that the professor of math will be protected from dementia for some extra years compared to the assembly line worker if they both employ a higher level of mental activity throughout their later years.
In this study, they also determined which participants carried the apolipoprotein E4 gene (APOE4 gene), which has been shown to be associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The Mayo Clinic study showed that cognitive impairment in those who carried the APOE4 gene was delayed if they engaged in a high level of intellectual enrichment throughout their lifetime. Specifically, cognitive impairment was delayed by about 8.7 years in males and 8.8 years in females if they carried the APOE4 gene and engaged in a lifetime of high mental activity.
High mid-to late-life mental activity was considered to be spending time doing various cognitively stimulating activities at least three times a week. Examples of cognitively stimulating activities would be reading books, playing games, such as card games, playing a musical instrument, creating art and crafts, working or playing on a computer and participating in social activities. According to the Mayo Clinic report, it seems that the mental activity of playing cards with friends offers more than a good time to laugh and share stories; it also may help to maintain mental clarity in old age.
By Margaret Lutze