Arts and crafts may be a way to stave off memory problems that lead into dementia, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Researchers recruited 256 people an average age of 87, none of whom had memory or thinking problems at baseline, to report on the number of arts and social activities they participated in. The arts range from painting, sculpting, and pottery, while social activities include trips to the theater, movies, or book clubs. Additionally, participants were asked to report their computer activities, such as conducting web searches and making online purchases.

After four years, the results showed 121 people developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — the stage between age-expected cognitive decline and the more serious decline of dementia, The Mayo Clinic reported. But of the middle and old age participants engaged in the arts, 73 percent were less likely to develop MCI. Participants engaging in social activities and computer use into old age also reduced their risk by 53 and 55 percent, respectively.

"As millions of older US adults are reaching the age where they may experience these memory and thinking problem[s] … it is important we look to find lifestyle changes that may stave off the condition," Rosebud Roberts, study author and member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a press release. "Our study supports the idea that engaging the mind may protect neurons, or the building blocks of the brain, from dying, stimulate growth of new neurons, or may help recruit new neurons to maintain cognitive activities in old age.”

Developing MCI doesn’t necessarily mean a person will develop dementia, but they are at greater risk when compared to someone without MCI. Last month, a separate study published in Neurology developed risk scores for predicting incident of MCI that can be easily obtained in a clinical setting; the earlier it’s caught, the better. Something like a risk scale is cost-effective and easy for doctors to use to keep their patient’s memory and thinking processes sharp, too.

This is noteworthy because currently, there are no tests or procedures doctors can use to demonstrate conclusively a patient has MCI. These cognitive changes are obvious, but they’re not so severe a person can’t keep on with their daily life. Until there’s a concrete method to diagnose MCI and really work to reduce any further cognitive change, be it dementia or Alzheimer’s, experts recommend older adults nourish their brain with exercise and a heart-smart lifestyle; high blood pressure is a risk factor for MCI.

Seeing as The Alzheimer’s Association has been recommending mentally stimulating and socially engaging activities as coping strategies for MCI, the present study emphasizes this type of engagement can be benefical.

Source: Neurology, 2015.