A program that emphasizes healthy eating, brain and social engagement, physical activity and heart health may slow dementia among people at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, says a new preliminary report from Sweden.
The findings can’t guarantee that healthy living will prevent Alzheimer’s disease but they add to growing evidence that suggests overall health is tied to dementia risk.
“This is really hard evidence that we can do something for brain health,” said 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’s disease.
The findings were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
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’s by almost a third.
People with Alzheimer’s experience memory loss, which worsens with time. The disease leads to problems with decision-making and an inability to perform daily tasks. Eventually, the complications from Alzheimer’s disease lead to death.
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 cutoff 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.
The multi-component intervention was delivered during a series of group sessions over the course of the study.
After two years, the researchers found the group that just got basic health advice experienced substantially more cognitive decline than the program participants.
The research team saw roughly a 40 percent difference between the intervention and the control groups. It was clear the intervention group improved from baseline.
The findings suggest that a healthy lifestyle delays onset for people who have cognitive impairment and, for people that do, it slows the progression.
Yet experts caution that a healthy lifestyle is no guarantee that a person won’t develop Alzheimer’s.
Still, it’s not too early to recommend interventions that target diet, exercise, heart health and brain and social engagement. Many of those interventions also target other chronic health conditions.
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