The more you use it, the better it gets: Why staying mentally active wards off cognitive decline

Your brain is massively plastic, which provides you the means not only to be a lifelong learner, but also the ability to upskill particular areas of brain function. Providing your brain with ongoing mental challenge is a well recognised way to stimulate the brains' plasticity. The challenge needs to be something new, with plenty of variety and an ongoing stretch. In other words the challenge needs to be something you may not have tried before or thought you weren't very good at. It needs to have plenty of variety, not just one more Sudoku or crossword puzzle and the challenge needs to be continual. The harder your brain has to work, the stronger the stretch and the better the plastic change.

It really is true, as far as your brain is concerned: the more you use it, the better it gets.

A new study published in the prestigious JAMA Neurology has revealed that people who may be genetically more predisposed to developing Alzheimer's, who went to college, worked in complex fields and were engaged intellectually can hold off the disease for almost ten years longer than those who didn't.

But even if you didn't go to college, keeping your mind stimulated with music, playing an instrument or reading, over your lifetime has a very powerful preventative effect.

For a person known to be carrying the APOE4 gene, which is associated with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's, a lifetime of cognitive enrichment provided 8.7 extra years without symptoms.

So, to stay with it, it's all about keeping your brain active and stimulated across the lifespan.

Ref:

Vemuri et al. Association of Lifetime Intellectual Enrichment with Cognitive Decline in the older Population JAMA Neuro Published online June23 2014