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Stimulate Your Brain Early to Stay Mentally Healthy in Old Age

Summary: Continuing education and taking leadership roles while young can help you stay mentally healthy later in life, a new study reports.

Source: University of Exeter.

Stimulating the brain by taking on leadership roles at work or staying on in education help people stay mentally healthy in later life, according to new research.

The large-scale investigation published in the journal PLOS Medicine and led by the University of Exeter, used data from more than 2,000 mentally fit people over the age of 65, examined the theory that experiences in early or mid life which challenge the brain make people more resilient to changes resulting from age or illness – they have higher “cognitive reserve”.

The analysis, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) found that people with higher levels of reserve are more likely to stay mentally fit for longer, making the brain more resilient to illnesses such as dementia.

The research team included collaborators from the universities of Bangor, Newcastle and Cambridge.

Linda Clare, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Ageing and Dementia at the University of Exeter, said: “Losing mental ability is not inevitable in later life. We know that we can all take action to increase our chances of maintaining our own mental health, through healthy living and engaging in stimulating activities. It’s important that we understand how and why this occurs, so we can give people meaningful and effective measures to take control of living full and active lives into older age.

“People who engage in stimulating activity which stretches the brain, challenging it to use different strategies that exercise a variety of networks, have higher ‘Cognitive reserve’. This builds a buffer in the brain, making it more resilient. It means signs of decline only become evident at a higher threshold of illness or decay than when this buffer is absent.”

The research team analysed data from 2,315 mentally fit participants aged over 65 years who took part in the first wave of interviews for the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales (CFAS-Wales).

They analysed whether a healthy lifestyle was associated with better performance on a mental ability test. They found that a healthy diet, more physical activity, more social and mentally stimulating activity and moderate alcohol consumption all seemed to boost cognitive performance.

Professor Bob Woods of Bangor University, who leads the CFAS Wales study, said: “We found that people with a healthier lifestyle had better scores on tests of mental ability, and this was partly accounted for by their level of cognitive reserve.

“Our results highlight the important of policies and measures that encourage older people to make changes in their diet, exercise more, and engage in more socially oriented and mentally stimulating activities.”

Professor Fiona Matthews of Newcastle University, who is principal statistician on the CFAS studies, said “Many of the factors found here to be important are not only healthy for our brain, but also help at younger age avoiding heart disease”.

Image shows text books.

People who engage in stimulating activity which stretches the brain, challenging it to use different strategies that exercise a variety of networks, have higher ‘Cognitive reserve’. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.

Professor Clare is supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC).

Testing our the efficacy of brain stimulation is part one aspect of the PROTECT (Platform for Research Online to investigate Genetics and Cognition in Ageing) trial, which involves Professor Clare. It has already recruited 20,000 people over the age of 50. They are taking part in Exeter-led research to establish which lifestyle measures can make a meaningful difference to keep people stay physically and mentally active in older age.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Louise Vennells – University of Exeter
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Potentially modifiable lifestyle factors, cognitive reserve, and cognitive function in later life: A cross-sectional study” by Linda Clare, Yu-Tzu Wu, Julia C. Teale, Catherine MacLeod, Fiona Matthews, Carol Brayne, Bob Woods, and CFAS-Wales study team in PLOS Medicine. Published online March 21 2017 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002259

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
University of Exeter “Stimulate Your Brain Early to Stay Mentally Healthy in Old Age: Brain Views Immoral Acts As If They Are Impossible.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 20 April 2017.
<http://neurosciencenews.com/brain-stimulation-aging-6454/>.
University of Exeter (2017, April 20). Stimulate Your Brain Early to Stay Mentally Healthy in Old Age: Brain Views Immoral Acts As If They Are Impossible. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved April 20, 2017 from http://neurosciencenews.com/brain-stimulation-aging-6454/
University of Exeter “Stimulate Your Brain Early to Stay Mentally Healthy in Old Age: Brain Views Immoral Acts As If They Are Impossible.” http://neurosciencenews.com/brain-stimulation-aging-6454/ (accessed April 20, 2017).

Abstract

Potentially modifiable lifestyle factors, cognitive reserve, and cognitive function in later life: A cross-sectional study

Background

Potentially modifiable lifestyle factors may influence cognitive health in later life and offer potential to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. The concept of cognitive reserve has been proposed as a mechanism to explain individual differences in rates of cognitive decline, but its potential role as a mediating pathway has seldom been explored using data from large epidemiological studies. We explored the mediating effect of cognitive reserve on the cross-sectional association between lifestyle factors and cognitive function in later life using data from a population-based cohort of healthy older people.

Methods and findings

We analysed data from 2,315 cognitively healthy participants aged 65 y and over in the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales (CFAS-Wales) cohort collected in 2011–2013. Linear regression modelling was used to investigate the overall associations between five lifestyle factors—cognitive and social activity, physical activity, diet, alcohol consumption, and smoking—and cognition, adjusting for demographic factors and chronic conditions. Mediation analysis tested for indirect effects of the lifestyle factors on cognition via cognitive reserve. After controlling for age, gender, and the presence of chronic conditions, cognitive and social activity, physical activity, healthy diet, and light-to-moderate alcohol consumption were positively associated with cognitive function, together accounting for 20% (95% CI 17%–23%) of variance in cognitive test scores. Cognitive reserve was an important mediator of this association, with indirect effects via cognitive reserve contributing 21% (95% CI 15%–27%) of the overall effect on cognition. The main limitations of the study derive from the cross-sectional nature of the data and the challenges of accurately measuring the latent construct of cognitive reserve.

Conclusions

Cross-sectional associations support the view that enhancing cognitive reserve may benefit cognition, and maintenance of cognitive health may be supported by a healthy and active lifestyle, in later life.

“Potentially modifiable lifestyle factors, cognitive reserve, and cognitive function in later life: A cross-sectional study” by Linda Clare, Yu-Tzu Wu, Julia C. Teale, Catherine MacLeod, Fiona Matthews, Carol Brayne, Bob Woods, and CFAS-Wales study team in PLOS Medicine. Published online March 21 2017 doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1002259

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