A yarn you can believe: knitting reduces risk of Alzheimer’s & other dementia

The National Institute on Aging estimates that over five million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia in older adults. While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, multiple research studies over the past decade have found ways to slow its onset.

Alzheimer’s is one of many forms of dementia, or loss of cognitive functioning, which includes thinking, remembering and reasoning. That’s why many researchers focus on cognitive experiments to evaluate the impact that various activities or tasks will have on the thought process.

The Zen of needlework

Kathryn Vercillo, author of “Crochet Saved My Life,” wrote about a Mayo Clinic study on the Lion Brand Yarns website.

Citing the study, Vercillo said the following factors show why cognitive exercises, including knitting, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by 30 to 50 percent:

  • Learning a new skill, especially a difficult one, fires up the brain cells and helps prevent Alzheimer’s. Knitting and crochet fit the bill, offering many techniques that require focused attention in order to be learned.
  • By improving hand-eye coordination, you can build nerve networks that protect against Alzheimer’s.
  • Through crafting, a person experiences emotional self-care. This reduces stress, important to reducing early Alzheimer’s.
  • A correlation has been found between depression and Alzheimer’s. Crochet and knitting (as well as other needlework) help battle depression.

All forms of dementia benefit

While it is great news that knitting and crochet can help reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, the benefits extend to other forms of dementia as well. This ripple effect was explored in an article by Lab Reporter, a news site that reports and interprets research in technology, science, health and environment.

The article suggests that the skills set for knitting make it a great activity for people at any stage of dementia.

(People) with onset dementia can start with simple patterns and (those) who are just beginning to show signs of the syndrome can work with more challenging patterns. As a subject learns how to knit they are able to progressively move on to more difficult knitting patterns. This allows (them) the opportunity to continue to strengthen their cognitive ability and fight off the symptoms of dementia.

Although this is exciting news, scientists don’t completely understand the connection between intellectual stimulation and Alzheimer’s. But they do theorize that mind-challenging activities provide “cognitive reserve,” which is the brain’s ability to operative even when it is damaged.

So break out the crochet hook and knitting needles (or any other creative tool of choice). The research continues to give a thumbs-up to the benefits of challenging creative activities to the mental health of older adults.

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