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Research shows leisure lowers risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia

It seems that leisurely activities are no longer just for fun.

A recent study by USF School of Aging Studies researcher Ross Andel, in conjunction with the University of Southern California and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, has proven that leisure helps lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life.

Andel said the specific types of leisure activities that have shown the greatest impact are intellectual and cultural. These are things such as watching the British Broadcasting Corp., going to theaters, social activities and reading.

These results come from a study started in Sweden. The name of the project, the Swedish Twin Registry, is a sample of twins living in Sweden. Researchers analyzed information about same-sex twins born between 1886 and 1925. In all 107 pairs of twins that participated in the study, one twin was diagnosed with a cognitive impairment, while the other twin was cognitively intact, Andel said.

The twins in the study, ages ranging form 42 to 68, were given a questionnaire to fill out in the 1960s. The questionnaire asked about their participation in leisurely activities. The twins also participated in follow-up examinations testing cognitive ability and dementia in the 1980s and ’90s.

The results of the STR also showed that leisure activities are more protective for women than men.

Andel said the reason the effect is more pronounced in women may be due to the fact that most men in the study had occupations that provided intellectual-cultural activity, whereas the women in the study were housewives. Since these women could not get intellectual-cultural stimulation from an occupation, they had to engage in leisurely activities.

“The conclusion is that it is protective for both men and women, but the effect is more pronounced in women,” Andel said.

In order to learn more about how leisure activities help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Andel said he would be working on two more research projects. One will deal with the intensity of the participation in leisure activities, and the other will deal with intellectually stimulating occupations.

“People live much longer now, so finding some midlife factors that will be protective against cognitive impairment is becoming more and more important,” Andel said. “If we can find specific leisure activities that can help, we can design some preventative strategies that can offset cognitive decline and have an effect on the quality of life, reduce medical costs and reduce caregiver burden.”