Mentally Stimulating Activities Help Keep Older Adult Minds Sharper

A senior woman playing puzzle

Researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have found that older adults who enjoy puzzles and crossword puzzles and other mentally engaging pastimes scored higher on standard tests for mental sharpness, while they were no less likely to show signs of mental decline over time than other older adults.  So what does this mean? Ultimately these older adults who were involved in mentally stimulating activities declined, but from a higher stand point, known as ‘cognitive reserve’.

Roger Staff, the lead researcher at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland explained it this way: “The results indicate that a lifetime of engagement lifts you to a point from which you decline, and that can be considered as passive cognitive reserve.  Starting from a high point will mean that the threshold at which you are considered impaired will be farther into the future.”

Is this proof that engaging in puzzles actually directly boosts brain power?  The jury is still out, however a study was published in the BMJ Journal which followed 500 British adults who had, starting in the 1940’s, taken identical intelligence tests.   At the age of 64 they were all asked to answer questions about whether or not they engaged in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, games, and puzzles, and they also took memory and thinking tests over the next 15 years.   The results were very interesting, to say the least.  While they all showed mental decline, those that participated in more mentally stimulating activities such as puzzles actually did better on the memory and thinking tests.

What are mentally stimulating activities?

  • Puzzles such as crossword puzzles, sudoku, and word find
  • Card games
  • Trips to the museum
  • Reading
  • Crafts
  • Taking courses and learning a new skill
  • Sewing
  • Carpentry
  • Writing poetry or short stories
  • Painting or drawing

What are some of your favorite activities? Do you feel they have helped keep your mind active?

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