habits that reduce dementia risk and slow memory loss
A large study of more than 29,000 older adults identified six habits linked to a lower risk of dementia and slower memory decline. The study, published in The BMJ, found that a balanced diet, exercising the mind and body, regular contact with others and not drinking or smoking were associated with better cognitive outcomes. in the elderly.
According to the Washington Post, the decade-long study adds substantial evidence to a global body of research that suggests a healthy lifestyle can help brains age better. It also gives hope to people who are more susceptible to memory decline because they carry the APOE4 gene, the strongest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
While memory naturally declines as people age and can be a harbinger of dementia, researchers have found that it “may be reversed or become stable rather than progressing to a diseased state.” The BMJ study was conducted in China between 2009 and 2019, the Post says. The researchers gave cognitive tests to 29,000 people aged 60 or older, then tracked their progress or decline over time. They performed baseline memory tests as well as tests for the APOE4 gene at the start of their study and sorted the participants into three groups – favorable, average, and unfavorable – according to six modifiable lifestyle factors.
These six factors included:
• Physical exercise. Do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.
• Nutrition. Eat a diet that regularly contains at least seven of the 12 foods (fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, dairy products, salt, egg oil, cereals, legumes, nuts, and tea).
• Alcohol. Do not drink or drink occasionally.
• Smoking. Has quit smoking or has never smoked.
• Cognitive activity. Exercise the brain at least twice a week by reading and playing cards, for example.
• social contact. Engage with others at least twice a week by attending community meetings or visiting friends or relatives, for example.
Researchers found that people in the favorable group, who had four to six healthy factors, and those in the middle group, who had two to three healthy factors, had a slower rate of memory decline over time than those with unfavorable lifestyles, with zero to one healthy factor.
The more a person practiced healthy factors, the more likely they were to reduce their risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and dementia. This association held true even for people who had the APOE4 gene, the Post says.
“These results offer an optimistic outlook, as they suggest that although the genetic risk is not modifiable, a combination of healthier lifestyle factors is associated with a slower rate of memory decline, regardless of genetic risk,” the study authors wrote. While the BMJ study found that a balanced diet played the most protective role in reducing cognitive decline, other studies have shown that mental and physical exercise is more important in preventing mental decline as we’re getting old. But the encouraging message is that it’s never too late to improve your brain health.
“The overall message from the study is positive,” said Snorri Bjorn Rafnsson, associate professor of aging and dementia at the University of West London’s Geller Institute of Aging and Memory. “Namely, this cognitive function, and in particular memory function, later in life can be positively influenced by regular and frequent participation in different health-related activities.”
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