Dan Parton (10/04/2012)urges older people to stay mentally active following recent research from America:

Research from the US has found that older people who are mentally active have better memory skills, suggesting mental stimulation may protect against memory decline. It shows again that, in terms of mental capacity, you really do have to use it or lose it.

While several previous studies have found this, this research by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, found that when people's participation in activities such as reading newspapers or playing board games declined, it was followed by a subsequent decline in cognitive function over time. Previously it has been unclear whether a lack of mental activity is a cause or a consequence of cognitive decline - this suggests that it is a cause.

While this was not a study into dementia, a decline in cognitive function can be a precursor to it and understanding the factors that are linked to this decline could be key to helping prevent it,as Marie Janson, director of development at Alzheimer's ResearchUK, said.

With the numbers of people with dementia in the UK rising -about 820,000 people have the condition - research such as this could help people to, if not prevent it, at least mitigate the effects for some time. It shows that reading a newspaper, or doing a crossword or Sudoku is not just a diversion to kill a spare half hour, it really could have lasting benefits.