Stimulating Mental Activities Decrease Risks of Dementia

By: Dr. Pascale Michelon

In 2002, Dr. Wilson from the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging published the results of the Religious Order Study. In this study, 801 older Catholic clergy members were followed for 4.5 years. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked how long they typically spent on cognitive activities such as viewing TV, listening to radio, reading newspapers, reading magazines, reading books, playing games such as cards, crosswords and other puzzles and going to museums. Twenty cognitive tests were used to measure mental functioning.

Once age, sex and education had been controlled for, the results showed that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease decreased as participation in cognitive activities increases. A person who participated in stimulating activities several times a week had 47% less risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease than a person participating in such activities only several times a month.
Dr. Wilson concludes that frequent participation in mental activities is protective.

In 2003, Dr. Verghese from the Einstein College of Medicine came to the
same conclusion. In the Bronx Study study, 469 people between 75 and 85
years old were followed for 5 years. Six activities were examined (reading books or newspapers, writing for pleasure, doing crossword puzzles, playing board games or cards, group discussions and playing music).
Results showed that reading, playing board games and playing music were associated with a lower risk of dementia. Findings were robust even after adjustments for age, sex, education, presence of medical illness and base- line cognitive status.
Dr. Verghese concluded that leisure activities may increase cognitive reserve, resulting in a delayed onset of dementia.


  • Wilson et al. (2002). Journal of the American Medical Association, 287, 742-748.
  • Verghese et al. (2003). New England Journal of Medicine, 348(25), 2508-2516.


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