Research Keeps Highlighting Importance of Lifestyle Choices in Battle Against Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I don’t know about you, but as I’ve reached middle age, it seems like time just flies each day. How did I ever used to fit everything into my day? Now I feel like I wake up, drink a cup of coffee and find the day is half-way through!


    Yet while time seems to be speeding up, it’s never been more important to think deeply about the choices of how we spend our allotted time each day. That’s because new research presented recently at the 2014 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference suggests the decisions you make at midlife about physical activity, food and hobbies may make a real difference in helping you avoid mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease in your later years.

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    Train the Brain

    A study out of Wisconsin’s Alzheimer’s Institute and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center looked closely at the role of doing stimulating mental activities to improve brain function. This study involved 329 participants who were an average age of 60. Forty percent of all participants had the APOe4 gene (which is a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s) while 74 percent had a parent who had suffered from Alzheimer’s.


    These participants were assessed using the Cognitive Activity Scale that reviewed their participation in brain-stimulating activities, such as reading, playing games or going to the museum.  In addition, brain imaging and neurocognitive tests were also used to look at each participant’s brain function.


    The researchers’ evaluation found that participants who reported playing games such as puzzles and cards more frequently had greater volume in several regions of the brain, such as the hippocampus, that are usually attacked by Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, these participants had higher scores on tests assessing memory and executive function.


    Moving During Middle Age

    Another study out of the Mayo Clinic looked at the role of exercise at various stages of life and Alzheimer’s. This study involved 280 adults who had a median age of 81 and who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

    The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire on how frequently they exercised during their lifetime as well as the intensity of this activity. The researchers followed the participants over a three-year period to see if they developed dementia. At the end of that period, researchers found that the participants who did moderate physical exercise in middle age had a significantly lower risk of their mild cognitive impairment advancing to dementia.


    Another study, also out of the Mayo Clinic, involved 1,830 older adults who weren’t experiencing cognitive decline. These participants also answered a questionnaire about their physical exercise levels in mid-life and late life; in addition, they had neurological evaluations and cognitive assessments. The participants were reassessed after a three-year period.


    The researchers found that participants who took part in light physical exercise during middle age as well as their later years were less likely to have mild cognitive impairment. Furthermore, participants who were vigorously active during middle age and also did moderate physical exercise in their later years had a decreased risk of developing mild cognitive impairment.


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    It’s Never Too Late

    A new study out of Finland, which was the first randomized clinical trial to look at the effect of lifestyle changes in regards to dementia, suggests that taking steps to adopt a healthier lifestyle -- even later in life -- may help reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. The study involved 1,260 participants who were between the ages of 60-77 and were at risk for developing dementia.  Half of these participants received regular health advice. The other participants were coached on nutrition, physical exercise, brain activities, social activities and managing health risks for cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that participants who took part in lifestyle changes performed significantly better on several assessments that looked at memory, problem-solving skills, and thinking ability.


    So while additional studies need to be done to better understand how lifestyle decisions at middle age and later affect brain function, these results should definitely underscore the importance of taking what you have control over – your exercise levels, your diet, and your activities and hobbies – and making the best choices possible. What you do now may protect your brain later!


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. (2014). Potential Alzheimer’s disease risk factors and risk reduction strategies become clearer.


    MedlinePlus. (2014). A healthy lifestyle may deflect dementia.  


Published On: July 22, 2014