By Denise Mann HealthDay Reporter
THURSDAY, Aug. 4, 2022 (HealthDay News)
Socializing, taking classes and exercising can increase your brain’s cognitive reserve and prevent future memory and thinking problems, a new study suggests.
Cognitive reserve refers to the brain’s ability to withstand the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and show no signs of decline.
The best way to increase your cognitive reserve?
“Never stop being curious and learn something new or pick up a new hobby,” said study author Pamela Almeida-Meza, a doctoral student at University College London. “Stay active and connected, exercise, take daily walks, stay in touch with your family and prioritize visiting your friends.”
For the study, the researchers looked at genes and lifestyle factors among 1,184 people born in 1946 in the United Kingdom. People took cognitive tests when they were 8 years old and again at 69.
All study participants received a cognitive reserve score that combined their level of education at age 26, participation in enriching leisure activities at age 43, and work at age 53. Reading ability at age 53 was assessed as an additional measure of lifelong learning in general.
The cognitive test that people took at age 69 had a maximum total score of 100, and the median score for this group was 92.
People with higher cognitive abilities in childhood, a higher cognitive reserve score and advanced reading ability performed better on the cognitive test at age 69, the study showed.
People with higher levels of education also fared better than their counterparts with no formal education.
People who participated in six or more recreational activities, such as adult education classes, clubs, volunteer work, social activities, and gardening, scored higher than people who participated in four or fewer recreational activities.
In addition, those participants who held a professional or mid-level job scored higher on the cognitive test at age 29 than those in lower-skilled jobs.
Previous studies have shown that people with low scores on cognitive tests as children are more likely to have more pronounced cognitive decline as they age, but this may not be the case after all.
“The finding suggests that a mentally, socially, and physically active lifestyle in midlife may offset the negative contribution of low childhood cognition to late-life cognitive status,” Almeida-Meza said.
The APOE4 gene, which increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, was linked to lower cognitive test scores at age 69, but participants with high or low childhood cognitive scores showed similar rates of mental decline with age, regardless of age. your APOE4 status.
The study appears in the August 3 issue of Neurology.
The findings show that genes are not destiny when it comes to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, said Lei Yu, an associate professor at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.
“Cognitive performance in old age is not completely determined by what we inherit from our parents,” said Yu, who reviewed the new study.
“Older adults who are actively engaged in cognitive [eg, reading or playing checkers, cards, puzzles, or board games], social [eg, spending time with family or friends, going to church, volunteering or participating in group activities] and physical activities [eg, regular exercise] are more likely to maintain cognition in old age, even in the presence of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” he said.
Michal Schnaider Beeri is a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She is co-author of an editorial accompanying the study.
“The study findings support the relevance of a lifetime investment in cognitive reserve accumulation for the maintenance of healthy cognition later in life,” he said.
“From a public health and social perspective, there may be broad, long-term benefits to investing in higher education, expanding leisure activity opportunities, and proactively providing cognitively challenging activities for people in lower-skilled occupations,” Schnaider Beeri said.
And, he said, it’s never too late to start increasing your cognitive reserve.
“Although younger brains learn faster and more efficiently, older and even [much] older brains have plasticity and the ability to learn,” Schnaider Beeri noted.
She recommended getting out of your comfort zone and learning a new language or skill, or a new musical instrument.
“Feeding our brains with intellectual engagement and effort should be viewed as a lifelong process to maintain healthy brain aging,” Schnaider Beeri said.
The Alzheimer’s Association offers more advice on how to avoid Alzheimer’s disease.
SOURCES: Pamela Almeida-Meza, doctoral student, University College London, Lei Yu, PhD, associate professor, Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Chicago; Michal Schnaider Beeri, PhD, professor, psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, Neurology, August 3, 2022