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Doctors say having an active social life may help reduce risk of Alzheimer’s

Keeping the brain active helps store healthy neurons - improving thinking skills as you get older.

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Joining a club or religious group reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer's, according to new research.

Keeping the brain active helps store healthy neurons - improving thinking skills as you get older.

Other participations that boost 'cognitive reserve' include volunteering, sporting or artistic activities, going to university, having a stimulating job and reading.

Continuing to learn over a lifetime provides a buffer against the memory-robbing disease - even for those who performed poorly at school.

Lead author Dr. Dorina Cadar, of Brighton and Sussex Medical School, described the results as "exciting."

She explained: "They indicate 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."

Previous studies have shown people with low test scores in childhood are more likely to have a steeper mental decline in old age than people with high scores.

Dr. Cadar said: "It is heartening to find 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."

The findings are based on 1,184 Britons born in 1946. They took cognition tests when they were eight years old and again when they were 69.

Those who engaged in six or more leisurely pursuits such as adult education classes, clubs, volunteer work, social activities and gardening scored an average of 1.53 points more than peers who did four or less.

Those with a professional or intermediate level job scored an average of 1.5 points more than their partly skilled or unskilled counterparts.

And those with a bachelor's degree or other higher education qualifications scored 1.22 points more on average than those with none.

A tool called the 'cognitive reserve index' rated brainpower - combining education level at 26 with participation in leisure activities at 43 and occupation up to 53.

Reading ability was also tested as a measure of overall lifelong learning separate from education and occupation.

Miniature people doctor and nurse observing and discussing about human brain, Science and Medical Concep
(Oakland Images via Shutterstock)

The cognitive test participants took at age 69 has a maximum total score of 100. Scores ranged from 53 to 100 - with an average of 92.

For every unit increase in childhood test scores, cognitive reserve index and reading ability, test scores in old age increased by an average of 0.10, 0.07, and 0.22 points, respectively.

The study also found for those with a higher cognitive reserve index and reading ability, scores on cognitive tests did not fall as rapidly as people with lower scores - regardless of results at eight.

Professor Michal Schnaider Beeri, of Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, New York, who was not involved in the study, said: "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."

The number of dementia cases worldwide will triple to more than 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there's an increasing focus on protective behaviors.

Katherine Gray, research communications manager at Alzheimer's Society which part-funded the long-term study, said: "It adds to a popular theory the more you regularly challenge your brain, the less likely you are to experience memory and thinking problems in your later years.

"From childhood to adulthood, participants who kept their brain active, whether it was in education, their career, or by taking part in complex hobbies, had better-thinking abilities by the age of 69.

"It's estimated the number of people with dementia in the UK is set to rise to 1.6 million by 2040.

"While there are many risk factors related to developing dementia, it is hopeful to know engaging in mentally stimulating activities and finding ways to regularly challenge your brain can help reduce the development of memory and thinking problems in the future."

The study in the journal Neurology adds to evidence keeping busy minimizes damage to brain cells - which can make everyday chores impossible.

Even listening to the radio, visiting museums, gardening, playing board games or filling out crosswords and other puzzles helps.

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