There is nothing more troubling than becoming forgetful as you age. (Take it from someone who routinely sees patients who flock to me for help with this disconcerting condition.)
But I have some good news on that front today: In the first study of its kind, researchers have shown that targeting some simple lifestyle factors can significantly slow cognitive decline among older people.
For the study, researchers recruited 1,260 people from across Finland between the ages of 60 and 77. None of the participants had major memory problems at the outset of the study, but were thought to be at risk for cognitive impairment based on a dementia risk score of 6 or more (on a scale of 0 to 15).
The researchers randomly assigned the subjects to an intervention group or control group. The control group received regular health advice only, but the intervention group underwent a program that concentrated on four major areas: individually tailored physical exercise programs, nutritional advice from nutritionists, group and individual cognitive training sessions, and monitoring/management of potential risk factors like blood pressure, weight, and body mass index.
At the end of the study period (2 years), the researchers administered another round of cognitive tests on both groups. The intervention group had a 25-percent improvement in the overall cognitive score compared with the control group. Even more impressive: Processing ability (the speed at which someone can combine brain and motor functions to do specific tasks) improved by 150%, while executive function (the ability to organize thoughts) improved by 83%.
Great improvements indeed—all from simple lifestyle changes.
In a sense, this trial puts dementia in the same realm as coronary heart disease or diabetes. It is a chronic condition that is partly preventable. The results of the study suggest prevention is key and that there are things you can do—starting today—to lower your risk, well before memory problems develop.
And they really are simple things.
Starting with eating a nutritious diet that focuses on lean protein, organic produce, and healthy fats (and eliminates sugar and processed, refined carbs). And getting some physical activity every day (as I’ve said many, many times—that evening walk is a great place to start).
The other thing I always recommend to my patients (which the subjects in the intervention group in this study did as well) is to challenge your brain with activities like memory games, puzzles, learning a new skill or language, etc.
And, of course—don’t forget your supplements. Just last month, I sent out a Reality Health Check detailing my top picks for brain protection. You can read it again by clicking here.
Here’s to thinking clearly and feeling good.
“A 2-year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to prevent cognitive decline in at-risk elderly people (FINGER): a randomised controlled trial.” Lancet, epub ahead of print 3/12/15