In my own practice I am seeing more and more people who are “older” (this gets more and relative as each year goes by) and who are concerned about developing cognitive problems as they age. Of course, demographic info indicates that we are going to be seeing more and more people with risk of dementia. NPR had an interesting article 0n 5-5-14 about research that supports behavioral (eg., what we are good at!) “interventions” that help sustain, or even improve, cognitive functioning.

To summarize briefly, researchers compared three groups: a group that learned a new skill, with several possible skills involved including digital photography and quilting,and control groups, including a “social” group that chatted or watched movies and another group who did quiet activities at their home. All groups did their activities for the same amount of time per week and the same duration, several months. Cognitive testing found that the group that learned new skills had the best cognitive functioning, and also sustained it one year later. The participants who learned a more challenging new skills (eg, how to use a digital camera and a digital editing program) had the most benefits. The article includes, “So how does learning a new skill help ward off dementia? By strengthening the connections between parts of your brain, says cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. While brain games improve a limited aspect of short-term memory, Kaufman says, challenging activities strengthen entire networks in the brain.”

The article also noted that exercise has similar benefits.

My takeaway: we can help the people who we see who have concerns about age-related cognitive decline by “prescribing” learning new activities and being active, and helping them with barriers to a healthier lifestyle.

The full article is at:

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