If you're lucky enough to live a long life, you hope it will be a healthy one. Diet and exercise are important for keeping your body in good shape. But what's the secret to keeping your mind in good shape too? Researchers are studying people who have lived past 90 without any signs of dementia, and what helps preserve their mental sharpness.
In 1981, researchers at the University of Southern California started the 90+ Study to look at mental acuity in the elderly. According to the study, "Evidence suggests that people who spend long stretches of their days, three hours and more, engrossed in some mental activities like cards may be at reduced risk of developing dementia." Now researchers are trying to determine whether or not these people are sharp because they are active, or active because they are sharp.
Research has found little evidence that diet and exercise affect the risk of dementia in people over 90. Mental activities like crossword puzzles and reading can help delay symptoms, as can regular social interactions (which also require brain power). It appears that some mental activities are more effective than others, and that activities with a social aspect (playing cards vs. reading a book) have the biggest impact on mental acuity.
My grandmother lived in a retirement community and was very active into her mid 80's. She walked regularly, played in a bowling league and met her friends to play cards once a week. A series of health problems forced her to give up those activities for a short period of time, and she never started back again. After that, her mental health quickly deteriorated. She began to isolate herself, and watching the Jerry Springer Show became one of her primary connections to the outside world. Needless to say, she started to lose touch with reality. My other grandmother just turned 90 and is one of the sharpest people I know. She goes to lunch regularly with her friends and buys and reads so many books she could start her own library. I think the combination of those two things (social and mental activities) has kept her brain functioning in peak condition.
What do you think? Have you seen examples of this in your own life? Do you plan to use activities like reading and games to keep your brain sharp as you age?
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