In a groundbreaking study that looked at how diet, exercise and other non-drug interventions affect cognitive decline, researchers see some hope for relatively easy dementia-fighting strategies.
A recent study showed that after just two years, people who underwent lifestyle interventions showed improvements in their mental functions, including in memory, executive function and speed tests of their cognitive skills.
Dr. Miia Kivipelto from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden knew that several studies have linked some lifestyle behaviors, such as exercise and a healthy diet, as well as being more socially active, to less cognitive decline and stronger scores on memory and organizational tests. But it wasn’t clear whether people who ate better, exercised more and had more friends also shared something else in common that could explain their ability to slow down dementia symptoms.
So Kivipelto conducted one of the first studies to randomly assign 1,260 older individuals at high risk of developing Alzheimer’s to a lifestyle intervention or to normal health care, to see if the behaviors linked to better brain health actually helped to stave off intellectual decline. “We were surprised that were able to see a clear difference already after two years,” says Kivipelto. She was especially pleased to see the effect since the control group also received adequate and appropriate health care. “We thought that two years may not be enough, but the multi-domain approach seems to be an effective way of doing something to protect memory.”
“These findings show that prevention is possible, and that it may be good to start early,” she says. “With so many negative trials for Alzheimer’s drugs reported lately, it’s good that we may have something that everyone can do now to lower their risk.”