Inviting Grandma Over for Game Night Might Help Keep Her Mind Sharp

Older adults who engage in certain types of activities are less likely to develop cognitive impairment, new research suggests.

We're all about spending more time with the fam, which is why we were so excited when we saw that spending a little QT with our loved ones is linked to them living longer. And now we're even more excited, because researchers have found yet another excellent reason to invite Grandma over for a night of family fun: Mentally stimulating activities may lower her risk of cognitive impairment.

In a January 2017 study published in JAMA Neurology, Mayo Clinic researchers followed more than 1,900 older adults (age 70 and up) for four years. At the outset, all of the participants were cognitively "normal." The researchers checked in with participants every 15 months to evaluate their cognitive health and ask them about how often they engaged in various types of activities.

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After adjusting for sex, age, and education level, the researchers compared the participants' activities and their risk of developing mild cognitive impairment (aka MCI, a condition that involves problems with memory, language, and thinking and can increase a person's risk for developing dementia or Alzheimer's). The results: The participants who engaged in "mentally stimulating" activities — including playing games — at least once or twice a week were significantly less likely to develop MCI.

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Board games not Grandma's thing? Don't worry: The researchers found that computer use, crafting, and social activities were also associated with a lower risk of cognitive impairment, so surfing the web or making one of those amazing chunky-knit blankets is good, too.

Of course the study found a correlation between mentally stimulating activities and lower MCI risk, not a cause-and-effect relationship. The study authors also noted that some people carry a version of a gene known as APOE that puts them at a higher risk for cognitive impairment, so these findings might not hold true in the same way for those carriers.

But the findings are intriguing nonetheless — and all the more reason for Grandma (and Mom, and you!) to join in on family game night!

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