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An observational study published in the journal Neurology found that engaging in mentally stimulating activities in later life was associated with lower risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). MCI is characterized by symptoms such as forgetfulness, feeling overwhelmed by decision making, and difficulty following conversations or maintaining a train of thought. It does not significantly affect daily life and activities and will not always progress to dementia.
The study, part of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, followed 2,000 individuals age 70 and older for five years. None of the participants showed signs of cognitive impairment at the start of the study. Participants completed a survey on how often they engaged in five mentally stimulating activities (reading books, using a computer, playing games, doing craft activities, or being socially active) now and in their 50s and 60s. Engaging in more of these activities was associated with a lower risk of developing MCI. Computer use in middle age and later life was associated with a 37 percent lower risk of MCI. Engaging in social activities, doing crosswords, or playing cards in middle age and later life was associated with a 20 percent lower risk. Craft activities were associated with a 42 percent lower risk of MCI, but only in later life.