Reading and Cognitive Activities Can Delay Alzheimer’s Onset by 5 Years, Study Finds

Using cognitive faculties through activities like reading and puzzles can help reduce the risk of dementia and preserve thinking abilities, according to recent research and experts in the field. While there is currently no cure for dementia, studies have shown that engaging in cognitively-stimulating activities can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A study published in Neurology found that high levels of cognitive activity can delay Alzheimer’s by 5 years for individuals aged 80 and above. On the other hand, spending more time on cognitively passive activities like watching TV is linked to increased dementia risk.

Dr. Joyce Gomes-Osman, vice president of interventional therapy at Linus Health and a professor of neurology, explained that engaging in mentally stimulating activities builds cognitive reserve, which protects against memory loss. She compared the cognitive reserve to a mental library, where each new piece of information adds to the library’s size. The development of cognitive reserve over a person’s lifespan comes from education and challenging life experiences that promote critical thinking.

Another study published in Neurology examined the effects of childhood cognitive skills, education attainment, and leisure activities on cognitive reserve. The study followed 1,184 individuals in the UK until the age of 69 and found that those with a bachelor’s degree or higher scored higher on cognitive tests. Engaging in six or more leisure activities also resulted in higher cognitive scores. People with higher reading ability experienced slower cognitive decline compared to those with lower reading ability.

Experts also emphasized the importance of “mental exercise” that engages multiple parts of the brain. Activities such as reading, puzzles, art, conversation, and work can benefit individuals with advanced dementia and help preserve their thinking skills. However, there are limits to the impact of mental exercises on cognitive reserve. While high IQs are associated with better dementia outcomes, cognitive tasks cannot overcome the degenerative process of dementia.

In addition to engaging in cognitively stimulating activities, researchers have identified 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia. These include education level, social contact, hearing impairment, exercise routine, depression symptoms, alcohol use, midlife obesity, exposure to air pollution, smoking habits, head injuries, hypertension, and diabetes. Addressing these risk factors can reduce dementia risk by reducing neuropathological damage and increasing cognitive reserve.

Dr. Gomes-Osman emphasized that it is never too late to improve brain health, even for individuals already experiencing memory loss. Learning something new and challenging the mind can improve memory, attention, and thinking abilities. Creating new and enjoyable experiences, as well as exposing oneself to new environments, can also positively impact brain health. Dr. Gomes-Osman suggested changing the location of activities and exploring different places to promote a positive outlook on life and improve brain health.