Making Art Tied to Fewer Cognitive Problems in Old Age
Are you concerned about developing thinking and memory problems in old age? Research suggests there are ways to increase the odds you will stay sharp, including mental stimulation, physical exercise, and healthy eating.
A just-published study from the Mayo Clinic points to yet another activity that, consistently pursued for decades, may be even more effective at warding off cognitive decline: making art.
The study, which featured 256 people in their mid- to late-80s, pinpointed various activities that either predicted cognitive impairment or protected against it during the final years of life. As noted in other studies, an active social life—whether in midlife or in both midlife and late life—was linked with fewer instances of mild cognitive impairment. So was late-in-life computer use.
"Long ago, 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away' was a common expression. Perhaps today, the expression should expand to include painting an apple, going to the store with a friend to buy an apple, and using an Apple product."
But the behavior that had the greatest protective effect, at least in this relatively small study, was “artistic activity,” such as painting, drawing, and sculpting.
“Long ago, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ was a common expression,” Dr. James Galvin writes in a comment accompanying the study, which is published in the journal Neurology. “Perhaps today, the expression should expand to include painting an apple, going to the store with a friend to buy an apple, and using an Apple product.”
Since participants reported on their midlife activities as well as what they were engaging in at the current time, the researchers were able to parse not only which activities appeared to protect against mild cognitive impairments, but when they were the most effective.
For instance, engaging in social activities in midlife was linked to fewer memory or thinking problems, as long as people did so so both in midlife and late in life. The relatively few people who only began socializing as seniors had cognitive impairment rates equal to those of people who, as a rule, didn’t engage in social activities at any point.