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The lifestyle that older people choose — especially if it includes activities such as taking classes, writing and doing puzzles — can lower their risk for dementia slightly, according to a new report.

A study that looked at 10,318 people from Australia found that literacy and mental activities such as playing games or using a computer reduced their risk for dementia. The researchers studied the risk over a 10-year period between 2010 and 2020. All of the people were over the age of 70 when the study started and did not have cognitive impairments at the time. The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Writing letters, journalising, taking classes or using a computer were classified as adult literacy activities. They were linked to an 11% lower risk of dementia. Doing puzzles and playing games — the researchers called these active mental activities — were linked to a 9% lower risk. Artistic activities like drawing, crafts, listening to music, and reading were associated with a 7% lower risk for dementia, their data showed

But social outings and interactions were not tied to a person’s risk for dementia, the scientists found. 

More than 73% of people said they listened to music, read books and watched television frequently. More than half of the people said they were regular computer users. Most people (more than 75%) never drew or painted.  

The authors say that knowing about the link between certain activities and dementia risks reveals useful insights, especially with a large sample group tracked over a long period of time. It could give people information about modifiable approaches that may be useful in delaying or preventing dementia.

The understanding that lifestyle interventions could reduce the risk of dementia is not new. A 2019 poll found that 5% of people aged 50 to 64 spoke to their doctors about lowering the risk for dementia. Most said they took supplements or did puzzles to hopefully stave off the disease. But experts have warned that the possible benefits could be overstated. The World Health Organization and Global Council on Brain Health have emphasized that supplements can’t do the trick, but some research has said mentally stimulating activities may help.