Creating a dementia care plan is not just about addressing cognitive decline as it’s happening, but also taking steps to prevent or delay it. As the population ages, dementia care and prevention are of supreme importance to patients, families, and communities. With no existing therapies to modify the disease itself, looking at lifestyle factors is crucial to helping prevent or slow cognitive decline.
Leisure activity and dementia risk
One of the most recently studied factors is leisure activity—the hobbies and interests individuals take on simply for enjoyment outside the duties of work and home life. Leisure activity has been linked to reduced dementia risk, but studies often focus on these activities less than ten years before cognitive decline or impairment are diagnosed. With Alzheimer’s in particular, pathological changes happen decades before the dementia is identified, meaning these studies are looking at leisure activity quite far down the path of neurodegeneration.
A short-term influence on dementia onset?
A recent study analyzed in Neurology looks at dementia in relation to leisure activity in the Whitehall II cohort study, which reported on 8,280 British civil servants ages 45 to 69 at the study’s outset (1997-99). Researchers looked at how often these individuals self-reported participation in 13 leisure activities, including social clubs and indoor games like cards or bingo, at baseline, 5 years later, and 10 years later. After aligning these reports with data from a national electronic registry of dementia diagnoses 10 years, 13 years, and 18 years down the line, the study concluded that leisure activity was associated with reduced incident dementia—as much as 18%—but only in the short term.
Dementia may impair motivation
While this could mean leisure activities performed closer to dementia onset are more protective than those pursued earlier in life, it could also indicate that reduced leisure activity is an early symptom of cognitive decline. The study did not consider vascular dementia or dementia subtypes, so it’s also possible that leisure activities might be protective in some cases, but not others. As dementia progresses, individuals’ motivation and ability to pursue goal-directed behaviors can be affected, making it difficult to undertake activities for pleasure.
Creating a comprehensive dementia care plan
It’s difficult to discern precisely what role leisure activity and other lifestyle factors play in delaying dementia, and it’s clear that more studies are needed. However, these activities certainly don’t cause harm and are helpful in improving quality of life and potentially, slowing cognitive decline. BrainCheck offers numerous tools to help clinicians streamline dementia care planning, including lifestyle changes.