According to the CDC at least 5 million people living in the U.S. live with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias. As the population ages, experts believe this number will increase quite significantly. A new study of older adults has shown that how increasing physical activity and changing diet can reduce the risk of dementia related diseases even if the person already has a cognitive decline diagnosis.
Dementia is a group of disorders that are characterized by difficulties in remembering, thinking and reasoning. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of cognitive decline. Even though scientists do not know the exact biological cause of Alzheimer’s, they do know that a variety of lifestyle factors does increase a person’s risk of developing dementia.
Lifestyle changes that affect this risk include alcohol consumption, smoking, physical activity and diet. One study has estimated that close to half of all cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide could have links to certain lifestyle factors.
A recent study led by The Australian National University in Canberra, conducted trials of a series of lifestyle interventions in people who were already experiencing cognitive decline. The goal was to see whether these changes might improve a person’s cognitive state and potentially reduce the risk of developing dementia.
The research team discovered that people who actively changed certain aspects of their lifestyle choices, were able to experience significant improvements in their cognition. This suggests that by making certain lifestyle changes, the course of cognitive decline could be altered and could also reduce a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The study involved 119 participants aged 65 or older who had either subjective cognitive decline (SCD) which is the self reported experience of memory loss of confusion, or had mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which is a clinically diagnosed form of cognitive decline. Medical professionals consider both forms of cognitive decline as early onset symptoms of dementia, although not everyone with MCI or SCD will develop dementia.
The study which is a part of the Body, Brain, Life for Cognitive Decline trial, set out to determine whether activity levels and diet can reduce the risk of dementia in people diagnosed with cognitive decline.
The participants were split roughly into two groups. Over an eight week period, the active control group completed online modules on the risk of dementia including information on dementia, lifestyle factors, Mediterranean diet, physical activity and cognitive engagement. These participants were instructed to implement this information into their own lifestyles.
The intervention group of participants received the identical online information in addition to active components to assist with implementing their information into their lifestyles. These included an exercise physiologist session, dietitian sessions, and online brain training.
At the end of the study, the intervention group’s cognition levels were significantly higher than the other group. Over the six months of follow-up, researchers noted that these participants were able to improve their lifestyle choices and had higher cognition scores. They measured this using a variety of tools including the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale Cognitive Subscale.
The team also assessed exposure to lifestyle risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s and showed that the intervention group was also significantly lower at the 3 month follow-up. However, at the six month follow-up this was not the case. This suggests that people need to maintain their diet and activity improvements to see continued benefits.
The study shows that people who are already experiencing cognitive declines, can reduce their risk for developing dementia later in life. With the right interventions, they may retain sufficient neuroplasticity of their brain to bounce back from decline. The fact that people can achieve this by adapting cost effective and relatively simple lifestyle changes, is very promising.
The research team notes that a follow-up trial with more participants than the original 119 and over a longer period will be important to confirm their findings and additionally demonstrate sustained cognitive improvements. They also note that participants who did not maintain a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s by the end of the study, suggests that some people may require “booster” sessions to ensure continuation of benefits.
To view the original scientific study click below