A four-year study involving over 2,000 participants age 70 or older indicates people who use a computer at least once per week are over 40 percent less likely to develop thinking and memory problems than participants who do not use the computer regularly. While the study did not look at cause and effect, it does indicate computer users are less likely to develop these issues than those who knit or read weekly.Dr. Janina Krell-Roesch from Arizona's Mayo Clinic believes these results show the need to keep the mind active as the body ages. These mind-stimulating activities help the brain to build a reserve of cells to replace those lost naturally in the aging process. During the four years, almost 31 percent of participants who entered the study with normal brain function and did not use the computer weekly developed mild cognitive impairment. Within the computer using group, the numbers dropped to below 18 percent.
Mild cognitive impairment occurs when the brain function declines at a rate greater than norm for the person's age but does not yet qualify as dementia. It is often a precursor for dementia. With mild cognitive impairment, both the patient and those close to him may notice changes in memory function without the loss causing interfering with normal activities. Some patients with the condition eventually develop Alzheimer's disease, while others never get worse or eventually get better.
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The research team cautions that the results could indicate other reasons for the improvement in the odds. As you reach retirement age and are no longer tied to a job, there is a temptation to take life easy. Computer users could also be more active with social interactions or more disciplined in other areas that cause the changes.