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Staying Active Improves Wellbeing for Older Adults, With or Without Memory Problems

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Apr 22nd 2014

We've all heard that staying active as we grow older is a good thing - research has shown that being involved in a variety of activities can keep us sharp, healthy, and happy.

active senior coupleBut when we read about these studies, we often think of older people with no cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's disease or another dementia. It makes sense that staying active and involved in life is easier for people with no cognitive problems.

However, we're missing the boat (or at least, an important part of the boat). What about older individuals with memory problems and other types of cognitive impairment? Does staying active and engaged with life help them too, or is it too late for them?

This question sounds almost sacrilegious, doesn't it? Maybe a bit disrespectful, too. But I'm putting it out there because the stereotype is all-too-common in our society. Despite increased awareness of dementia and the preserved personhood of those who have it, many still assume that once cognitive impairment sets in, the person may as well give up.

That's why I was so pleased to read about a study conducted by the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and recently published in the journal Research on Aging. The study found that the more active older people are, the higher quality of life they report, even in the face of significant cognitive impairment.

Hallelujah! This kind of affirming news is just what society needs to hear so that all older adults are provided opportunities to engage with life - those with and without cognitive difficulties.

If you're curious what kinds of activities the study measured, there was a broad range: going out to eat, exercising, going to church or other religious activities, participating in social activities with groups, seeing movies, participating in hobbies, reading, grocery shopping, communicating with friends, watching television, and volunteering.

The study didn't examine whether certain kinds of activities boosted quality of life more than others - this might be an interesting follow-up study. But its results are intriguing and encouraging.

The message is clear - engage in a variety of activities each day and week to maintain your sense of wellbeing and quality of life. And if you experience cognitive impairment, don't quit. You may have to adapt your activities, but you don't have to give them up. In fact, staying engaged with life can create wellness for you regardless of your health status.


Johnson, J. D., Whitlatch, C. J., & Menne, H. L. (2014). Activity and well-being of older adults: Does cognitive impairment play a role? Research on Aging, 36(2), 147-160. Full text PDF:


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

Itís a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

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