Crafty ageing

The people who write and publish crosswords have been delighted with the regular studies over the last few years confirming that crosswords help keep the brain functioning as you age. Many other activities can perform a similar function but it is crosswords that seem to be the popular emblem for maintaining an ageing brain. Be prepared to extend the pantheon of brain-sustainers however, as a new study has shown that arts, crafts, and computers are also very effective.

After the age of 65 around 10-20 per cent of people have what is known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which involves problems with memory and thinking skills. The new study involved 256 people with an average age of 87 at the start of the study. None of the participants had memory or thinking problems at the beginning.

The subjects were all interviewed as to whether they had taken part in activities during middle age that included artistic pursuits (painting, drawing, sculpting), crafts (woodworking, pottery, sewing), social activities (going to the movies, being part of a book club etc), or computer activities (internet, computer games, online shopping).

Testing during the four year follow up revealed that 121 of the participants developed MCI.

Analysis of the study data revealed that those who had undertaken artistic activities in middle age were 73 per cent less likely to develop MCI compared to people who did not participate in artistic activities. That might be expected because artistic pursuits have a reputation as being mentally stimulating but there is good news for you too, crafters and computer geeks. Taking part in crafts was linked to a 45 per cent reduction in MCI risk while computer use led to a 53 per cent reduction. Interestingly socialising was associated with a 55 per cent reduction in MCI risk.

It may be that socialising contributes to part of the value of some of these activities, although probably not the more isolated computer time. It certainly seems that engaging your mind can encourage new neuronal connections that will protect your mental function as you age. So next time you ponder the possible use of that oval shaped raffia-work for sale at the school fete, pause to think that it may in fact have been a neuronal survival package.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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