Mayo Clinic researchers have found that engaging in mentally stimulating activities, even late in life, may protect against new-onset mild cognitive impairment, which is the intermediate stage between normal cognitive aging and dementia. The study found that cognitively normal people 70 or older who engaged in computer use, craft activities, social activities and playing games had a decreased risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. The results are published in the Jan. 30 edition of JAMA Neurology.

Researchers followed 1,929 cognitively normal participants of the population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging in Olmsted County, Minn., for an average duration of four years. After adjusting for sex, age and educational level, researchers discovered that the risk of new-onset mild cognitive impairment decreased by 30% with computer use, 28% with craft activities, 23% with social activities, and 22% with playing games.

“Our team found that persons who performed these activities at least one to two times per week had less cognitive decline than those who engaged in the same activities only two to three times per month or less,” says Yonas Geda, M.D., psychiatrist and behavioral neurologist at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus and senior author of the study.


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The benefits of being cognitively engaged even were seen among apolipoprotein E (APOE) ε4 carriers. APOE ε4 is a genetic risk factor for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s dementia. However, for APOE ε4 carriers, only computer use and social activities were associated with a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment.

“Even for a person who is at genetic risk for cognitive decline, engaging in some activities was beneficial,” says Janina Krell-Roesch, Ph.D., the first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Geda’s Translational Neuroscience and Aging Program (TAP). “So I think the signal is there even for APOE ε4 carriers.”