A new study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago claims reading and writing may preserve memory into old age. By keeping your brain active, says study author Robert S. Wilson, PhD, you’re able to slow the rate at which your memory decreases in later years.
This is not the first time researchers have arrived at such a conclusion, of course. Previous studies have also found keeping the brain active by reading, writing, completing crossword puzzles and more can essentially exercise the brain and keep it limber far into old age. One study also concluded that keeping television consumption to a minimal amount may also boost brain power over the years. Wilson’s study was recently published in the journal Neurology.
“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 Wilson in a statement.
For his study, Wilson gathered nearly 300 people around the age of 80. He then gave them tests which were designed to measure both their memory and cognition each year until they passed away at an average age of 89. The same participants also answered questions about their past, such as whether they read books, did any writing, or engaged in any other mentally stimulating activities. The volunteers answered these questions for every part of their life, from childhood to adolescence, middle age and beyond.
When the participants passed away, their brains were then examined at an autopsy as Wilson’s team looked for physical evidence of dementia, such as lesions in the brain, tangles or plaques. After examining the brains of these volunteers and compiling the data from the questionnaires, Wilson’s team found those who had kept their minds active throughout their lives had a slower rate of memory decline than those who did not often participate in mentally challenging activities. Based on the amount of plaques and tangles in the brains, keeping your brain active is responsible for a 15 percent differential in memory decline.
The study also found the rate of memory decline was reduced by 32 percent in people who kept their brains active late in life. Those who were not mentally active had it much worse; their memories declined 48 percent faster than their actively reading and writing peers.
“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.
And this news is hardly surprising. Doctors, teachers and parents have been admonishing children to turn off the television and pick up a book for years. There is no shortage of studies to back up their claims. A 2009 study, for example, found people who keep their brains active saw a 30 to 50 percent decrease in risk of developing memory loss. This study, conducted by doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota observed people between the ages of 70 and 89 with and without diagnosed memory loss.
Those who were likely to read magazines or engage in other social activities were 40 percent less likely to develop memory loss than homebodies who did not read. Furthermore, those who spent less than seven hours a day watching television were 50 percent less likely to develop memory loss than those who planted themselves in front of the tube for long stretches of time.