A new study says that reading and writing can preserve brains of older people and insure them against deterioration as they age.
Konstantinos Arfanakis and colleagues from Rush University Medical Centre and Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, examined the effect of late-life cognitive activity on the brain's white matter, composed of nerve fibres, or axons, that transmit information through the brain.
Previous research, unlike that of Arfanakis, had linked late-life cognitive activity with better mental sharpness, according to a statement from Rush University and Illinois Institute.
"Reading the newspaper, writing letters, visiting a library, attending a play or playing games, such chess or checkers, are all simple activities that can contribute to a healthier brain," Arfanakis said.
The researchers used a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method known as DTI to generate data on diffusion anisotropy, a measure of how water molecules move through the brain. These values in white matter drop with aging, injury and disease.
The study included 152 elderly participants with an average age of 81 years, from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a large-scale study looking at risk factors for Alzheimer's disease. They were without dementia or mild cognitive impairment, based on a detailed clinical evaluation.
Researchers asked them to rate on a scale of one to 5 the frequency with which they participated in a list of mentally engaging activities during last year, such as reading newspapers and magazines, writing letters and playing cards and board games.
Data analysis revealed significant associations between the frequency of cognitive activity in later life and higher water molecule diffusion in the brain.
These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago in the US.