Does reading really help slow cognitive decline? Analysis of scientific evidence for the layperson


An important thing that some lifestyle magazines sometimes lack when giving recommendations or stating supposed facts is evidence. And I’m not talking about just any evidence, I’m talking about scientific evidence in the form of observational studies, clinical trials, etc. So when I read some random magazine’s article on the benefits of reading I’m thinking, “I’ve heard some of this before but I’ve never seen the evidence of this.” So I did a little research and came across this interesting scientific article titled, “Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging.”


So, here I give you a piece of real scientific evidence regarding a benefit of, not just reading, but activities that stimulate our cognitive function (aka mental activity/processes).

Be warned, this is a very condensed summary of the article and it discusses more than what I’ve summarized. This study was carried out by folks at the Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL. It was published in the journal for the American Academy of Neurology. The study had 294 patients and took into account their cognitive activity during early and late in life and tried to establish if there was some sort of relation between three things:

This study was carried out by folks at the Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL. It was published in the journal for the American Academy of Neurology in 2013. The study had 294 patients and took into account their cognitive activity during early and late in life and tried to establish if there was some sort of relation between three things:

  1. the level of mental activity the person has
  2. if it influences their cognitive function later in life
  3. if it does, will it be a consequence of the mental activities taken place early or late in life.

The study found that those who have a high cognitive activity in early life (except during young adulthood) and late life had less decline of their cognitive function. These results were quantified based on psychometrically established scales in order to measure cognitive function and activity. Now, does this evidence mean more reading or cognitive activity will prevent Alzheimer’s?


Unfortunately not. I’ve met people who think or have read somewhere that keeping your brain active will prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia but that is not the case. Sometimes our brains or genes are wired a certain way and it may be inevitable for some people. However, the study does note that cognitive activities may slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s and its progression, it will not stop you from developing it altogether. “The fact that cognitive activity has an association with cognitive decline that is independent
of neuropathologic burden shows that more frequent cognitive activity can counterbalance the cognitive loss associated with neuropathologic conditions.”

It’s good to see scientific evidence backing this up and be able to see this evidence first-hand as well in real life. My 86 year old grandmother loves reading and maybe now I can say that being mentally active for most of her life has helped her maintain “an edge” to her mental and cognitive functions. Although she can be forgetful like a typical grandmother, I’ve seen other people her age who, with no Alzheimer’s or dementia, or a bit slower than she is. According to the article,

“Neuroimaging research suggests that cognitive activity can lead to changes in brain structure and function that might enhance cognitive reserve.”

An important limitation to take note of in the study is that the reliability of the findings will have to be proven. In other words, the results of this study don’t necessarily apply to the general public in real life! This is one thing that’s important about studies and articles in magazines. You can tell me what great results they had but are they applicable in the real world?

Still, I don’t know about you but I feel much better having read this on a peer reviewed article than a magazine on a newsstand but that’s just because I’m nerdy like that! 🙂

For a complete look at the study, its results and discussion you can find the link to the article here.

Have you ever been told that by doing mental activities you can prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia?

What are your thoughts on this article?


  1. I really appreciate your focus on the evidence! I’ve heard and read about this topic often, not just for reading but for language learning and puzzle solving and a whole range of other cognitive activities that can ‘prevent’ alzheimers. You’re right, many lifestyle magazine headlines do tend to simplify and make broad claims!

    I did recently read a good article in Scientific American on the topic (this one: – it’s a subscriber-only article though unfortunately), which looks at both increased cognitive and physical activity. It also talked about delaying onset rather than ‘stopping’ it, but did show some positive results… which is heartening, particularly in the absence of any ‘cure’ or effective longterm treatment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your feedback! I was able to read the article- via my university’s database. That is one side of this topic I hadn’t originally considered, how much does physical activity impact the decline in cognitive function?! It seems that physical activity does have a positive effect maintaning it according to the article.

      Yet another reason I should excercise more often…let’s see if I actually start doing it! I agree, evidence such as this is a ray of hope for people and you’re already doing a world of good if you exercise and keep your brain sharp with mental activities so why not do it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great you could look it up! I also found it interesting that it looked at exercise too, not just mental activity, I hadn’t considered that before in relation to cognitive decline.

        Haha yeah it seems no matter how many studies show exercise is one of the best medicines, I still have trouble getting myself to do it! But yes, there are so many good reasons to keep mentally and physically active, and this is another good one, so hopefully it will inspire people and do some good.

        Liked by 1 person

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