Childhood readers stay sharper in old age, brain study says


If you have one of those kids who always has a nose buried in a book, here’s a reason to be happy: Scientists say activities at any age that stimulate the brain may help preserve brain power into old age.

The scientists assessed 294 people from the Chicago area who were ages 55 and older, using annual tests to measure thinking and memory and questionnaires about past reading, writing and other mentally stimulating activities. At death, which occurred at an average age of just over 89, they looked at their brains for signs of dementia.

The study results were published this week in the journal Neurology. They showed that mentally stimulating activities across all ages is important for brain health in old age, said Robert Wilson, one of the study authors, of the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.


It’s not that those activities will keep the brain from decline, but that the rate of decline is slowed, the scientists said. That was true independent of common neuropathic conditions, such as plaques and tangles, they said. Mental activities through life seem to provide a “cognitive reserve,” the scientists said.

Higher levels of cognitive activity in childhood, middle age and old age “were associated with slower rate of cognitive decline, together accounting for nearly 15% of variability,” the scientists wrote.

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