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Being a serious reader protects you from cognitive decline
Cognitively stimulating activities have been linked to less cognitive decline in older age. There are two possible explanations for this: cognitive inactivity could result from neuropathological changes in the brain or cognitive activity could delay cognitive decline. This latter theory is known as the cognitive reserve hypothesis. To test this hypothesis researchers performed periodic testing of cognitive function and collected information on cognitive activity both in late and earlier in life from participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project. The activities included reading, writing letters, visiting libraries, and processing information. During the 5.8-year follow-up 294 people died and their brains were autopsied for signs of infarcts, plaques, and tangles associated with dementia. After controlling for age, education, and autopsy results, researchers found that greater cognitive activity throughout life was associated with delayed cognitive decline. Compared to people with average cognitive activity, those with the least had a 48.4% greater cognitive decline while those with the greatest activity had a 32.3% lower decline. Greater total cognitive activity explained about 15% of the difference in cognitive function that was due to the brain changes found during the autopsies. More cognitive activity is associated with less cognitive decline in older age. Because these findings were independent of the amount of brain damage found during the autopsies, the researchers say the findings support the cognitive reserve hypothesis.