Seniors at risk for dementia may help safeguard their memory and ability to think by adopting a healthier lifestyle, a new study from Finland suggests.
Older people who began eating right, exercising, playing "brain games" and socialising more often performed better on memory and problem-solving tests than people who maintained their habits, the researchers said.
Putting findings to the test
Earlier studies have observed that each of these lifestyle changes might help fight dementia. But this is the first randomised clinical trial to put those findings to the test, said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programmes and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association.
"This is the first study to definitively show that changing your lifestyle will reduce your risk for cognitive decline," Fargo said.
The study involved 1,260 people aged 60 to 77 at risk for dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Half of the participants received nutritional guidance, physical exercise, brain training, social activities and management of heart health risk factors. The other half just received regular health advice.
After two years, the group that underwent lifestyle changes performed significantly better on memory tests, problem-solving exercises and quick-thinking quizzes.
Read: Mentally stimulating games keep ageing minds sharp
Only about 11 percent of participants dropped out after two years, which researchers took as a sign that the lifestyle changes weren't too onerous.
The study findings were presented this week at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Staving off dementia
The findings are in keeping with long-term studies in the United States that found that exercise, diet and social activity can help stave off dementia, said Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New Hyde Park, New York.
"It does not come as a surprise to those of us who have been working for a very long time with patients who are at risk of developing dementia," Wolf-Klein said.
It seems that by giving your brain regular mental and social workouts, you can keep it limber. And diet and exercise can help manage health problems that could affect the brain, she said.
Read: Aerobics boosts brain health in older adults
"There's a general feeling that if you eat the right thing and exercise, that's better for your overall health," Wolf-Klein said.
At the same time, healthy living isn't a guarantee against dementia.
"I don't think you can say the risk goes away altogether. As people age, they will have some decline in their cognitive abilities. That's just a part of ageing," Fargo said. "But try to maintain healthy activities, a healthy lifestyle, in middle age and later, and that's going to help reduce your risk for cognitive decline."
The study authors plan an extended seven-year follow-up that will track the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer's, and will include brain imaging scans.Read more:
Study links traumatic brain injury to increased dementia risk
Lifetime of learning might thwart dementia
Mediterranean or carb-free: which diet is best for your brain?
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