Any Truth in “Use it or Lose it”?

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Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

A bit of a departure this week from social care and staffing crises. Not that they have gone away. Thought I’d get back to looking at something that has appeared in the research again that’s worth some thought.

There has been a lot written and a lot of money spent on a commonly held belief that if you don’t stay intellectually engaged then you are likely to experience a cognitive decline, the so-called “use it or lose it” phenomenon. This idea has become widely accepted by healthcare professionals and the public, but is it really true?

A large Scottish study published in the BMJ in December casts a lot of doubt on this belief suggesting something different goes on. The study looked at people all born in 1936 and subjected them to a series of tests from age 64 up to 5 times over the next 14 years and compared the results. They also had access to all the participant’s childhood intelligence tests so they had an idea of a baseline as well some ability to “track/see” a decline. So what did they find?

Well, self-reported intellectual engagement did not seem to have influence on the trajectory of any decline of memory and processing speed that they experienced in later life. (So using it, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t stop you from losing it).

To see the full study go to

Intellectual engagement and cognitive ability in later life (the “use it or lose it” conjecture): longitudinal, prospective study

What they did find though was that engagement in intellectually stimulating activities throughout life meant that any decline experienced started at a higher point so although you still experienced a decline you were able to cope better for longer.

So my message for the week is to get out all those board games, problem-solving games crosswords, jigsaw puzzles etc. and start doing them now and keep on doing them, because you have no idea just what the benefit to you will be later on.

So, “Do it now or lose it later” is probably more accurate. Very much the same message  I’d say to you about physical exercise!

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