Card games linked to better memory and larger brain volume

Research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference has linked participation in mentally stimulating activities, such as card games, with larger brain volumes and better cognitive scores.

Researchers at the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center followed 329 healthy people with an average age of 60, all of whom were considered to be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Participants underwent MRI scans and a series of cognitive tests, and were asked how often they took part in activities like reading books, going to museums and playing card games or doing puzzles. The results showed that people who played games or did puzzles most frequently were more likely to have greater brain volume in several brain regions, and better scores in tests of memory and thinking skills.

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:

"Observational studies like this are not able to pinpoint cause and effect, but they can be useful for identifying factors that may influence our risk of memory decline and dementia. Previous evidence has suggested that keeping the brain active may help boost ‘cognitive reserve’, allowing the brain to resist damage for longer, and this study adds to the ongoing ‘use it or lose it’ debate. It’s important to note that the people in this study did not have dementia, and we can’t say from these results that playing card games, reading books or doing crosswords will prevent the condition. The best evidence suggests that we can reduce our risk of dementia with a healthy lifestyle – eating a balanced, healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and keeping blood pressure and weight in check."