Pursuing Leisure Activities May Not Protect Against Dementia

Some studies have suggested that older people who consistently engage in leisure activities are less likely to develop dementia than those who do not, suggesting that failure to participate in such pastimes could spur cognitive deterioration. A new study suggests another explanation: Failure to participate in leisure activities may be a consequence of dementia, not a cause.

Researchers studied 8,280 people, average age 56, who were free of dementia at the start of the analysis. Over the next 18 years, the participants underwent periodic physical and psychological examinations, while researchers tracked their involvement in 13 leisure activities — listening to music, gardening, attending cultural events, playing cards, using a home computer and others. By the end of the project, 360 had developed dementia.

The study, in Neurology, controlled for smoking, physical activity, education, coronary heart disease and other health and behavioral characteristics that are tied to dementia risk. They found no association between engagement in leisure activities at age 56 and the incidence of dementia over the following 18 years.

The researchers concluded that actively pursuing leisure activities may not provide protection against developing dementia. “Dementia develops over a long period of time, so it’s possible that some changes happen before the diagnosis of dementia,” said the lead author, Andrew Sommerlad, a researcher at University College London. “Elderly people withdrawing from activities that they previously enjoyed may be developing early signs of dementia.”

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