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 . 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 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 .
Furthermore, a study showed that older adults who did not socialise were more likely to become socially isolated . 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] .
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- 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
- Woollett, K., & Maguire, E. A. (2011). Acquiring “the Knowledge” of London’s layout drives structural brain changes. Current biology : CB, 21(24), 2109–2114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2011.11.018
- Chopik, W. J. (2017). Associations among relational values, support, health, and well‐being across the adult lifespan. Personal Relationships, 24(2), 408–422. https://doi.org/10.1111/pere.12187
- Alaphillipe, D. (2008). Self-esteem in the elderly. Psychol Neuropsychiatr Vieil. 6(3), 167-76. doi: 10.1684/pnv.2008.0135.
- Fyrand, L. (2010). Reciprocity: A Predictor of Mental Health and Continuity in Elderly People’s Relationships? A Review. Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research. doi:10.1155/2010/340161
- Cacioppo, J. T., & Cacioppo, S. (2014). Social relationships and health: The toxic effects of perceived social isolation. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 8(2), 58–72. doi:10.1111/spc3.12087
- de Moor, E, Denollet, J, & Laceulle, O. (2018). Social inhibition, sense of belonging and vulnerability to internalizing problems. J Affect Disord, 222. 207-213. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.08.034
- Courtin, E, & Knapp, M. (2017). Social isolation, loneliness and health in old age: a scoping review. Health Soc Care Community, 25(3). 799-812. doi: 10.1111/hsc.12311.
- Holt-Lunstad, J, Smith, T, Baker, M, Harris, T, Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspect Psychol Sci, 10(2), 227-37. doi: 10.1177/1745691614568352
- Razai, M. (2020). Mitigating the psychological effects of social isolation during the covid-19 pandemic. BMJ, 369. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m1904
- Kim et al., 2017. Bilingualism for Dementia: Neurological Mechanisms Associated With Functional and Structural Changes in the Brain. Frontiers in Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.01224
- Grady, C. L., Luk, G., Craik, F. I., and Bialystok, E. (2015). Brain network activity in monolingual and bilingual older adults. Neuropsychologia 66, 170–181. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.10.042
- Marian, V., and Shook, A. (2012). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. Cerebrum 2012:13.
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- Klimova, B., Valis, M., and Kuca, K. (2017). Bilingualism as a strategy to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Clin. Interv. Aging 12, 1731–1737. doi: 10.2147/CIA.S145397
- Woumans, E., Santens, P., Sieben, A., Versijpt, J., Stevens, M., and Duyck, W. (2015). Bilingualism delays clinical manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease. Biling. Lang. Cogn. 18, 568–574. doi: 10.1017/s136672891400087x
- Estanga, A., Ecay-Torres, M., Ibañez, A., Izagirre, A., Villanua, J., Garcia-Sebastian, M., et al. (2017). Beneficial effect of bilingualism on Alzheimer’s disease CSF biomarkers and cognition. Neurobiol. Aging 50, 144–151. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2016.10.013
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- Bubbico, G., Chiacchiaretta, P., Parenti, M., Di Marco, M., Panara, V., Sepede, G., et al. (2019). Effects of second language learning on the plastic aging brain: functional connectivity, cognitive decline, and reorganization. Front. Neurosci. 13:423. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2019.00423
- Perani et al., 2017. The impact of bilingualism on brain reserve and metabolic connectivity in Alzheimer’s dementia. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., 114 (17), 1690-95. 10.1073/pnas.1610909114
- Demarin et al., 2016. Arts, Brain and Cognition. Psychiatr Danub, 28 (4), 343-348. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27855424/
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- Lyu et al., 2018. The Effects of Music Therapy on Cognition, Psychiatric Symptoms, and Activities of Daily Living in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 64(4):1347-1358. doi: 10.3233/JAD-180183.
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