Active Mind - Food for the Brain

Active Mind

The term “use it or lose it” is very pertinent for preventing cognitive decline in older adults. Keeping the brain active plays  an  important role in  building cognitive resilience throughout life, and  helping to preserve memory in later life.  

Engaging in Mentally Stimulating Activities

Research  indicates that individuals who keep their minds active exhibit better cognition than those who do not engage in these activities. Mental stimulation is often perceived as an activity that provides opportunities to keep minds active, concentrate and stay alert.  Mental stimulating activities include  reading, brain-stimulating games, art and craft, communication, physical activities, reminiscence, problem-solving and social contacts [1].  Mental stimulation leads to new learning . Learning new skills can also improve memory, as illustrated by a study which followed London taxi drivers, as they learned new skills, over four years [2, 3 ].

Social  Activities

Social participation is a major predictor of health and psychological outcomes in later life. Social participation with others, particularly within friendship groups, has been indicated to become incrementally more important for mental well being as people age. Research has demonstrated that older adults are at particular risk of becoming lonely, and that loneliness is associated with impaired cognition and poor psychological and physical health in older adults [3].

Furthermore, a study showed that older adults who did not socialise were more likely to become socially isolated [4]. Loneliness is strongly correlated with negative health outcomes and premature death, to a similar extent to what is seen with other risk factors, such as obesity and smoking [5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10].


Research suggests that bilingualism and multilingualism may help to prevent memory loss in older adults. Individuals who are bilingual have been observed to exhibit better cognitive function and reserve than individuals who are monolingual. Additionally, bilingualism has been associated with lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and enhanced ability to increase learning and memory. Neuroprotective benefits of bilingualism have been demonstrated even in individuals who have taken up language learning in later life, as just 4 months of language learning has been associated with improved cognitive function in older adults [11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20].


Engaging in creative activities, such as music and art, may also prevent memory loss. Music in itself has been suggested to  improve memory, orientation, irritability, agitation and language in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. A further study found that the benefits of music therapy demonstrated positive effects on cognition and memory in the sample of elderly subjects studied. Furthermore, art therapy has also been suggested to be beneficial for improving cognition, as well as generally promoting psychological well being in old age [21, 22, 23, 24] . 


  1. Leung, P., Yates, L., Orgeta, V., Hamidi, F., & Orrell, M. (2017). The experiences of people with dementia and their carers participating in individual cognitive stimulation therapy. International journal of geriatric psychiatry, 32(12), e34–e42.
  2. Akbaraly, T. N., Portet, F., Fustinoni, S., Dartigues, J. F., Artero, S., Rouaud, O., et al. (2009). Leisure activities and the risk of dementia in the elderly: results from the three-city study. Neurology 73, 854–861. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181b7849b
  3. Woollett, K., & Maguire, E. A. (2011). Acquiring “the Knowledge” of London’s layout drives structural brain changes. Current biology : CB, 21(24), 2109–2114.
  4. Chopik, W. J. (2017). Associations among relational values, support, health, and well‐being across the adult lifespan. Personal Relationships, 24(2), 408–422.

Mahendran, R., Gandhi, M., Moorakonda, R.B. et al. Art therapy is associated with sustained improvement in cognitive function in the elderly with mild neurocognitive disorder: findings from a pilot randomized controlled trial for art therapy and music reminiscence activity versus usual care. Trials 19, 615 (2018).