Robert S Wilson, of Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, has published a report in Neurology, which is the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
His study looked at nearly three hundred people, mostly in their eighties, who were tested annually on their memory and thinking abilities throughout the last years of their lives. Part of the study involved asking them how much they'd read books, visited libraries, or written letters throughout their lives.
It was found that people who had been keen life-long readers and writers experienced a slower decline in memory than those who hadn't, and post-mortem examination showed that even when the brain had deteriorated physically, showing the classic plaques and tangles of Altzeimer's disease, the keen readers and writers experienced about a 14%* smaller decline in memory and thinking skills than the occasional readers.
The theory behind this effect is known as the cognitive hypothesis of mental function. The idea is that mentally challenging tasks maintain and create both brain cells and the connections between them, and that this helps to compensate for any damage caused by disease or old age.
The rate of decline between those who hardly ever bothered with mentally stimulating activities and those who did average amounts of mentally stimulating activities was 32%*. The difference between the average people and the hardly-evers was 48%*
'Can we do anything to slow down late-life cognitive decline'? ask the authors of the study. They admit that more research is needed, but until then: 'The results suggest yes. Read more books, write more, and do activities to keep your mind busy.'
I'm feeling really quite chuffed about that.
And, if you've got this far, so should you.
Brilliant Thing you've Already Done Today: read! This word comes from the Old English rǣdan, to advise or explain.
*Though how you express this sort of thing in terms of a percentage I have no idea at all.