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Being social, educated, and employed helps prevent cognitive decline, study finds

Keeping the mind active through several different activities is beneficial for cognitive health

Mental health and heart health concept
Photo (c) Carol Yepes - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the American Academy of Neurology explored some of the factors that may protect consumers from cognitive decline. According to their findings, an active social life, having a job, and educational abilities may serve to protect consumers from developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

“These results are exciting because they indicate that cognitive ability is subject to factors throughout our lifetime and taking part in an intellectually, socially, and physically active lifestyle may help ward off cognitive decline and dementia,” said researcher Dorina Cadar, Ph.D.

“It’s heartening to find that building up one’s cognitive reserve may offset the negative influence of low childhood cognition for people who might not have benefited from an enriching childhood and offer stronger mental resilience until later in life.” 

Protecting cognitive health

The researchers had nearly 1,200 participants involved in this long-term study. The group took cognitive assessments when they were eight years old and then again at nearly 70 years old. The team checked in on important factors over the course of the study – education at age 26, leisure activities at age 43, and occupation at age 53. 

The study showed that these factors were beneficial in preserving long-term cognitive health. For starters, the team found that participants who had the highest scores on the cognitive exam when they were kids were also more likely to have similarly high scores later in life. Additionally, each individual factor – education, occupation, and leisure activities – helped protect cognitive health as the participants aged. 

Having an active social life proved to have the biggest effect on the participants’ cognitive assessment scores at the end of the study; those who were avid gardeners, active club members, or students in adult education classes scored an average of 1.53 more points on the later cognitive assessment.

Having an established occupation yielded similar results; those who had secured at least an intermediate-level job by age 53 scored an average of 1.5 more points on the second cognitive test. Lastly, participants who had attained at least a bachelor’s degree at the check-in scored an average of 1.22 more points on the cognitive test in later life. 

The findings highlight the long-term benefits of staying socially and mentally active. The longerconsumers remain engaged in their social, professional, and educational lives, the better their cognitive outcomes are likely to be down the road. 

“From a public health and societal perspective, there may be broad, long-term benefits in investing in high education, widening opportunities for leisure activities, and providing cognitive challenging activities for people, especially those working in less-skilled occupations,” said researcher Michael Schnaider Beeri, Ph.D. 

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