News article

Healthy Living May Slow Early Dementia: Study

Posted:  Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Currently, Alzheimer disease has no known cure, but recent research results are raising hopes that someday it might be possible to delay, slow down, or even prevent this devastating disease. There is no conclusive evidence yet about what can prevent Alzheimer or age-related cognitive decline. What we do know is that a healthy lifestyle—one that includes a healthy diet, physical activity, appropriate weight, and no smoking—can help brain health. Making healthy choices can also lower the risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, and scientists are very interested in the possibility that a healthy lifestyle might have a beneficial effect on Alzheimer as well.

“This is really hard evidence that we can do something for brain health,” said Dr. Miia Kivipelto, the study’s lead author, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The findings also show that it’s not too late to help brain health since the participants were all at risk for Alzheimer disease, Kivipelto added.

For the lifestyle study, 1,260 Finnish adults ages 60 to 77 at high risk for developing Alzheimer disease were divided into two groups. Half the participants were put on a lifestyle intervention program for dementia treatment that included diet, exercise, social activities and brain training, as well as careful monitoring of blood pressure and cholesterol. A control group got regular health advice. After two years, the group that received the intensive lifestyle interventions performed significantly better than the control group on tests of memory, planning, problem-solving and quick thinking.

Another study presented at the same conference also suggested that controlling certain risk factors, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, may reduce the worldwide prevalence of Alzheimer by almost a third.

Alzheimer is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. About 5.3 million Americans have the disease.

For the new study, the researchers recruited 1,260 Finnish adults between the ages of 60 and 77 years to take part in the two-year trial.

All of the participants scored above a cut-off point on a list of lifestyle risk factors for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, and on a neurological test, all had cognitive performance that was average or slightly below average for their age.

The participants were randomly assigned to a group that received basic health advice or a group that took part in a multi-component program targeting diet, exercise, heart health and brain and social engagement.

After two years, the researchers found the group that just got basic health advice experienced substantially more cognitive decline than the program participants.

“We saw about a 40 percent difference between the intervention and the control” says Gandy.

Gandy directs the Centre for Cognitive Health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Kivipelto cautioned that a healthy lifestyle is no guarantee that a person will not develop Alzheimer.