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Bookworms Have Better Cognition in Old Age

Update Date: Jul 03, 2013 03:59 PM EDT

Being a bookworm may help preserve brainpower in old age, according to a new study.

The findings, published in the journal Neurology, revealed that reading books, writing and participating in brain-stimulating activities at any age may preserve memory.

"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," researcher Robert S. Wilson, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said in a news release.

The study involved 294 people.  The people were given tests that measured memory and thinking every year for about six years before their deaths at an average age of 89. Participants also answered questionnaires about whether they read books, wrote and participated in other mentally stimulating activities during childhood, adolescence, middle age and at their current age.

After participants died, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, such as lesions, brain plaques and tangles.

After adjusting for differing levels of plaques and tangles in the brain, researchers found that people who participated in mentally stimulating activities both early and late in life had a slower rate of memory decline compared to those who did not participate in such activities across their lifetime. Mental activity accounted for nearly 15 percent of the difference in decline, according to the study.

"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.

The findings revealed that the rate of mental decline was reduced by 32 percent in people with frequent mental activity in late life, compared to people with average mental activity.  However, the rate of mental decline of those with infrequent activity was 48 percent faster than those with average activity.

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