Over 35 million people worldwide live with dementia and by 2050 this number is expected to triple. Dementia is a serious progressive loss of brain function. Memory, attention, language and problem solving are all affected by the syndrome. Dementia takes many different forms including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, frontotemporal dementia, semantic dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies. While most dementia occurs around or after the age of 65 some patents experience what is known as “early onset dementia” which occurs before the age of 65. In later stages of the syndrome subjects may become disoriented and confused by their surroundings.
According to a collection of studies conducted throughout the years, it has been discovered that knitting could help delay the onset of dementia. Knitting is a private mental process also known as a cognitive activity. Cognitive activities include crossword puzzles, painting, sewing, cooking, recreational activities, crafting and any other activity that requires a patient to focus inward to accomplish a task. Neurologists have found that these creative activities are beneficial to one’s health and being able to work with their hands gives dementia patients a natural surge of dopamine. This natural surge of dopamine has been called the “natural anti-depressant”.
Knitting stimulates a number of different areas in the brain. This includes memory and attention span. These are two functions that are especially affected by dementia. Knitting puts these functions back in action and like a muscle keeps them strong even through the gradual loss of cognitive ability. Knitting and other similar projects can slow down the loss of cognitive ability as much as 50 percent and help stabilize a patents progression of the syndrome. A study done at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota showed that people between 50 and 65 years of age who began knitting at an earlier age and continued knitting later in life had a decreased risk of dementia.
There are many different levels of difficulty to knitting which makes the activity great for patients at any stage of the syndrome. Patients with onset dementia can start with simple patterns and patients 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 a patient the opportunity to continue to strengthen their cognitive ability and fight off the symptoms of dementia.