Active Mind

Keeping your brain active by reading and playing games may delay Alzheimer’s by 5 years

September 1, 2021

Reading, playing games and writing may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by up to five years, results from a new study suggest.

Keeping your mind active by reading and playing board games, puzzles or cards several times a week can lead to changes in brain structure and function that improves cognitive reserve.

The research, conducted by scientists from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, looked at the behaviours, activities and brain health of 1,978 people over an average of seven years. 

The participants had an average age of 80 and did not have dementia at the start of the study. Every year they had to answer questions about their activities. The questions covered topics such as how often they wrote, how much time they spent reading each day, and how often they played games. Researchers also asked about their childhood, middle age, loneliness and how often the participants saw friends and family. 

Every year during the study, the participants underwent a clinical evaluation and had to take a series of cognitive tests. The researchers scored the participants, with higher scores for those who were more active in terms of playing games, reading and writing, and lower scores for those who were less active.

The participants who had the lowest score, on average developed dementia at age 89. Those who rated highly on their level of cognitive activity, showed signs of dementia at an average age of 94. 

Lead author of the study, Dr. Robert Wilson, said: “I was confident that higher cognitive activity would be associated with later age of dementia onset, but I was unsure of the size of the association.

“The study suggests that a cognitively active lifestyle can stave off the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders by several years and thereby greatly reduce how much of one’s lifespan is spent in a cognitively disabled state. 

“We asked about everyday cognitively stimulating activities, such as reading a newspaper or book or visiting a library; it was cognitive activity in old age that was most protective.”

More ways to keep your brain active 

There are many simple things you can do to keep your brain active and maintain its health for longer. These include:

  • Socialising and communicating with friends and family often
  • Using social media to stay in touch with your community
  • Doing crosswords, Sudoku or playing chess
  • Learning another language 

Our active mind guide has more information about keeping your brain healthy. You can also read our guidance on sleep, nutrition and exercise.