Mental activities may slow memory decline in people’s final years

IQ test for seniors

While it is impossible to predict when someone will die of natural causes, new research shows that the rate at which people's memory declines increases two and a half years before they pass away. However, activities that stimulate the brain may also keep the mind sharp in old age.

Data that supports these claims appeared in the American Academy of Neurology's medical journal, Neurology. In a study of 174 Catholic priests, nuns and monks, researchers tested these individuals' memory between six and fifteen years before death. While these participants did not have a history of memory problems, their brains showed a deterioration in cognitive abilities approximately two and a half years before they expired.

In a second study, researchers examined the impact of mental activities on 1,076 individuals with an average age of 80. These participants, who had no history of dementia, reported how often they played board games like chess, read the newspaper and wrote letters.

"The results suggest a cause and effect relationship: that being mentally active leads to better cognitive health in old age," said Robert S. Wilson, the study's author.

If older adults read the news and play board games on a regular basis, they may want to take an IQ test to see what effect these activities are having on their mental abilities.

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