Doing This One Thing Online Can Help Prevent Dementia, New Study Says
You probably started doing this during the pandemic, but researchers say to keep it up.
As we age, the fear of memory loss becomes increasingly daunting. If there is anything we can do to try to stave off dementia, it's worth trying. Of course, there are brain puzzles and games you can do to stay with it, but there are even smaller changes you can make in your daily life to reduce your risk of developing dementia. For example, a recent study found that doing this one basic activity online can help prevent cognitive decline. To see what you should be doing on your computer to keep your brain healthy as it ages, read on.
Communicating online can help maintain long-term memory.
It turns out, all those Zoom calls during the pandemic may have been more beneficial than you know. A Feb. 2021 study from the University of West London's Geller Institute of Ageing [sic] and Memory found that regularly communicating online, as well as in person, can help maintain long-term memory in older people. From email to video calls, any online interaction, combined with real-life communication, can help slow the decline of episodic memory, which refers to "the ability to recollect meaningful events and the impairment of which is a hallmark sign of major forms of dementia," the researchers explain. Their study, which was conducted over 15 years, included 11,418 participants between the ages of 50 and 90 years old.
With the boom of video calling and online chatting during the COVID pandemic, this study couldn't be more applicable and its findings easier to implement than right now. "With more and more older adults now using online communication so frequently, especially during the past year of global lockdowns, it poses the question as to what extent technology can help sustain relationships and overcome social isolation, and how that can also help maintain brain health," the study's lead author Snorri Rafnsson, PhD, said in a statement.
People who only communicated in person showed more signs of cognitive decline.
Over the course of the 15 years of research, the scientists found that people who only chatted with others via traditional face-to-face discussion showed a steeper decline in long-term memory than those who used technology in addition to in-person interactions, leading the researchers to advocate for older people using varied forms of communication.
"This shows for the first time the impact of diverse, frequent, and meaningful interactions on long-term memory, and specifically, how supplementing more traditional methods with online social activity may achieve that among older adults," said Rafnsson.
People with hearing loss benefited even more from communicating online.
While diversifying modes of communication helped all participants in the study, researchers found that people with hearing loss experienced especially notable benefits. "The more diverse the communication methods overall, the greater the benefit to cognitive function over time—particularly among those with hearing loss where even greater impact was observed," reads the statement.
Rafnsson said this could be due to the unique feature of online communication that allows people to dial into the conversation without distraction. "We can also see a positive impact among older people with hearing loss, who by making use of online tools such as email, may be better able to focus solely on the quality of an interaction to achieve those same cognitive benefits," said Rafnsson.
Learning to use new online tools also helps maintain memory function.
Not only does communicating through diverse mediums help maintain long-term memory, but so does learning how to use a new platform. Rafnsson pointed out that there are combined factors at work here that help preserve memory. "Learning to use and engage with online social technology can offer direct cognitive stimulation to keep memory function active," he said. "In addition, communicating through diverse channels can facilitate social support exchanges and interactions, which in turn benefit our brains."
Learning a new skill has long been linked to staving off dementia. A 2013 study published in Psychological Science found that learning a new, slightly challenging skill significantly improved episodic memory. Another study published in 2014 in the Annals of Neurology found that speaking two or more languages, even if you learned the second language late in life, may help impede age-related cognitive decline.