Time spent playing games and puzzles correlates to brain volume in middle age, according to a study from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) yesterday. More time spent engaging in mentally stimulating games was also associated with better performance on cognitive tests of learning, memory and information processing.
The study involved 329 middle-aged adults who were ‘cognitively normal’ but at an increased risk of developing dementia due to their genetic background or family history. Participants reported their current level of engagement in brain-stimulating activities such as reading books, visiting museums and playing games using the Cognitive Activity Scale. They also underwent MRI brain scans and a series of cognitive tests. Focusing on games such as cards, checkers, crosswords or other puzzles, the researchers found people who reported playing games more often had greater brain volume in several regions involved in Alzheimer’s disease (such as the hippocampus) and higher scores on cognitive tests.
The authors of this studysuggest that, for some individuals, participation in brain-stimulating activities like game playing could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease by preserving vulnerable brain structures and cognitive functions.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said:
‘This research shows an interesting association between the size of certain brain areas, memory performance and time spent challenging the brain with games and puzzles. However, it doesn’t tell us that playing mind-stimulating games can cause positive changes in brain volume or memory- this needs to be tested in longer term studies or clinical trials.
Although there is no harm in playing games and puzzles, research shows that the best steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing dementia is taking regular exercise, eating a healthy balanced diet, not smoking and keeping cholesterol and blood pressure under control.‘