From the Daily Telegraph
Study prompts hopes that it is never too late to reduce dementia risk
The first trial of its kind finds that adopting a healthy lifestyle to protect the brain can have a dramatic impact on mental decline
Adopting a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of dementia, even if changes are made late in life, new research suggests.
Those who improve their lifestyles after retirement could slow their mental decline by one quarter, a major study in The Lancet has found.
Pensioners who were enrolled on a programme to encourage healthy eating, exercise, and regular “brain training” sessions performed far better in mental tests than others who were just given basic health advice.
Experts said the research my the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, from the first major trial of its kind, found that changes in daily habits had a “significant impact” on brain function.
However they said it was too soon to say how long the impact on mental function persisted, and whether it reduces the chance of dementia in the long-term.
The study tracked more than 2,600 Fins aged 60 to 77, all of whom were considered to be at risk of dementia.
Half were given standard health advice about factors thought to reduce mental decline, such as following a healthy diet, socialising and having regular exercise.
The rest were enrolled on an intensive programme, which gave detailed instructions, with regular checks on their progress.
Pensioners in the group were expected to carry out computer-based “brain training” three times a week, and follow precise instructions on diet and exercise.
At the end of two years, those on the programme has 25 per cent better scores in mental tests on their brains.
For some tests, differences between groups were more striking. For executive functioning - the brain's ability to organise and regulate thought processes - scores were 83 per cent higher in the programme group, while processing speed – the ability to automatically perform relatively easy tasks – was 150 per cent higher.
Lead researcher Professor Miia Kivipelto, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said: "Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health, and fitness. “However, our study is the first large randomised controlled trial to show that an intensive programme aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia."
The lifestyle advice those on the programme followed:
Individually tailored programmes with aerobic exercise 2 to 5 times a week and muscle strength training 1 to 3 times a week
Group and individual sessions, including computer-based training three times a week for up to 15 minutes at a time
10 to 20 % of daily energy from proteins
25 to 35 % of daily energy from fat (less than 10 per cent from saturated and trans fats, 10 to 20 per cent from monounsaturated fats, 5 to 10 per cent from polyunsaturated fats
45 to 55 % of daily energy from carbohydrates (less than 10 per cent from refined sugar)
25 to 35 grams a day of dietary fibre
less than 5 grams a day of salt
less than 5 per cent of daily energy from alcohol
What did we know about reducing the risks of dementia until now?
• Experts believe exercise may have the greatest impact in protecting against the condition. In 2014, a landmark study by Cambridge University suggested that just one hour’s exercise a week could reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half. Scientists don’t know why exactly, but it is possibly because it reduces blood pressure, controls cholesterol, improves blood vessel health and keeps weight down.
• Diet is also key. A Mediterranean diet - plenty of fruit and vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts, a little red wine and not much meat or dairy - has been highlighted as a key way to protect both the heart and the brain.
• Avoid smoking - We all know smoking is extremely harmful and here’s yet another reason to quit - it significantly increases your risk of developing dementia, most likely because it damages blood vessels and reduces the amount of blood that reaches your brain.
• Manage other health conditions – Other conditions like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure both increase your risk of developing dementia, so get these checked and follow medical advice to keep them under control.
• Use it or lose it – Scientists believe that frequently challenging your brain with new things is the key, for example taking up a new hobby, learning a language or even walking an unfamiliar route. Computer-based train training can offer some similar challenges, but there is limited evidence about the role of crosswords in protecting against dementia.