During the recent NIH State-of-the-Science conference, experts presented preliminary evidence that “cognitive engagement” might protect against memory loss. Brain fitness programs and crossword puzzles might provide this engagement, but meaningful activity that also involves social connections and physical activity may be better, these experts said.
One such program is Experience Corps, where people 55 and older volunteer in elementary schools for 15 or more hours per week. They tutor and mentor students, help teachers in the classroom and run after-school programs. With programs in 22 cities, Experience Corps benefits students and schools. A study led by Michelle Carlson, Associate Director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University, shows the program may also improve memory and thinking in the volunteer elders.
“We need to examine what staying mentally fit means, beyond prescriptions to do crossword puzzles,” says Dr. Carlson. “That may improve skills at crossword puzzles, but may not necessarily exercise problem-solving skills and support brain regions critical to performing everyday activities and living independently.”