- New hobbies are more beneficial in preventing dementia than sudoku
- Omega-3 helps slow cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s disease
- Women who take aspirin have better memory after five years, experts say
- While consuming one glass of bubbly a week might help prevent dementia
Dementia plagues many lives, leaving people desperate to avoid the same fate as their beloved sufferers.
Scientists have spent many years trying to provide hope for millions of people – and they have had some success.
The remedies – some of which are already used for other reasons in our lives – could be the answer to stopping its debilitating effects.
Here, in a piece for Healthista, the six proven ways to prevent the onslaught of dementia are revealed.
Here, the six proven ways to prevent the onslaught of dementia are revealed by scientists
By the time today’s 30 and 40-somethings reach the age when they may develop Alzheimher’s disease and dementia, it’s likely we’ll know more about its early signs and probably have drugs to treat it before it even shows symptoms.
Perhaps even more hearteningly, in the next ten years, we’ll know more ever about the specific things that help prevent the disease.
Studies such as the PREVENT trial, which run through various UK universities, are set to confirm this further by looking at the brain and cognitive function of those aged 40-59.
‘We’ll be using brain imaging, blood markers, spinal fluid tests and complex cognitive tests to measure people’s brain function in middle age’, says Craig Ritchie, leader of the trial and professor of the psychiatry of ageing at Edinburgh University.
His hope? ‘In the next ten years we’re going to get more and more evidence about the things people can do to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia,’ he explains.
‘Our aim is to be able to take any given individual and say, “Well your risk is X per cent and here are the things you can personally do to help prevent it.”‘
So, what do we know so far?
MENTAL STIMULATION, NOT SUDOKU
Evidence suggests it’s taking up new hobbies, interests and intellectual challenges that are more beneficial in preventing dementia – not sudoku
Brain stimulation, not brain training, is essential in preventing cognitive decline, says Professor Ritchie.
‘Chatting, being socially interactive with friends and in a work environment is probably what lights up your brain more than anything else.
‘I often get asked “But I do lots of crosswords and Sudoku, will that protect me from dementia?”‘
But the evidence now suggests it’s taking up new hobbies, interests and intellectual challenges that are more beneficial than the things you have done all your life.
‘So, if you’ve done crosswords your whole life, learning to play the piano at 65 is going to have more benefit on your cognitive health than keeping doing things you have always done,’ he adds.
HAVE YOU GOT COGNITIVE RESERVE?
People who worked in complex jobs involving other people, such as lawyers, were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, a previous study found
Cognitive reserve refers to the psychological behaviours you do throughout your life to help maintain your brain health.
‘A high cognitive reserve would be someone with a mixture of high education, a complex lifetime occupation and high levels of social engagement in old age’, says Carol Brayne, professor of public health medicine at Cambridge University.
The more of these factors you have, she says, the more protected you may be if you develop a bit of cognitive impairment without it turning to dementia.
In terms of ‘complex lifetime occupations’, in July this year, occupational scientists at the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centre, Wisconsin, graded jobs according to how much intellectual engagement they provide.
They found those less associated with the development of Alzheimer’s in later life were those that worked in complex jobs involving other people.
While lawyers, social workers, teachers and doctors were best protected, those who enjoyed the least protection included shelf-stackers, machine operators and labourers.
ASPIRIN AND THE BRAIN
Women who took low-dose aspirin were found to have better memory and cognitive function after five years than those who didn’t, research has found
Some observational studies have suggested long-term use of aspirin is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
One Swedish study found women over 70 who took low-dose aspirin because they were at high risk of heart disease were found to have better memory and cognitive function after five years than those who didn’t.
Now, the biggest ever study into the effects of aspirin on the heart and the brain is set to confirm the link.
Funded by the Medical Research Council, the ASCEND trial involves 15,000 volunteers taking a low-dose aspirin or placebo for seven years.
‘Aspirin acts to reduce the risk of blood clotting, and therefore heart attack and stroke, which are two things associated with measurable effects on cognitive function,’ says Jane Armitage, professor of clinical trials and epidemiology at Oxford University, who is leading the research.
At the end of the trial, expected in 2018, they will look to see if aspirin increased the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
THE FISH OIL FACTOR
Omega-3 fatty acids helped slow the decline of cognitive function of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, previous research found
The ASCEND trial will also look at the effects of taking fish oils – specifically those containing omega-3s, a type of essential fatty acid which the body doesn’t make itself – on cognitive function.
Although small studies found supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids helped slow the decline of cognitive function on those with Alzheimer’s Disease, no substantial studies have yet affirmed the link, says Professor Armitage.
‘Earlier studies have suggested that omega 3 might reduce deaths from heart disease following heart attack, but no large studies as yet,’ she explains.
It’s this heart benefit connection that hold a great prevention key.
BE GOOD TO YOUR HEART
Lifestyle factors that help the heart, can also maintain cognitive function, says Professor Carol Brayne, from Cambridge University
‘The same processes that cause heart attacks and strokes are also in some way associated with the development of dementia,’ says Professor Armitage.
‘There is quite a lot of indirect evidence that if you can reduce your vascular risk factors, you may also protect yourself from future cognitive problems.’
Indeed, Professor Brayne points out that of the seven key risk factors for the development of Alzheimer’s.
They are: high blood pressure and obesity in mid-life, diabetes, smoking, low levels of physical activity, low education and lifetime depression – five are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
In fact, where in the past doctors saw dementia as being caused either by amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles and imbalances in a chemical, latest research suggests most people will develop some vascular factors.
Ultimately, this means that the lifestyle factors that help the heart, can also maintain cognitive function, says Professor Brayne.
ALCOHOL, EXERCISE AND THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Consuming one to three glasses of bubbly a week might help prevent dementia, scientists at the University of Reading found earlier this month
News to pop a cork over came out earlier this month when scientists at the University of Reading found consuming one to three glasses of bubbly a week might help prevent dementia.
They claimed the phenolic compounds present in both pinot noir and pinot meuniere – two of the grapes used to make champagne – had the ability to increase spatial memory.
It was also found to improve cognitive function and promote learning and memory retention.
Professor Ritchie says while high levels of drinking damages the brain, there is some evidence suggesting small amounts of red wine may help.
Meanwhile, of the diets associated with helping prevent dementia, the bulk of the evidence points to the high polyunsaturated fat, fish, vegetable, fruit, grain and indeed conservative red wine content of the Mediterranean diet, he says.
A 2013 systematic review published in the journal Epidemiology pulled together 11 papers looking at the effects of a Mediterranean diet on brain function.
It found that it was associated with slower cognitive and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting all of the scientists Healthista spoke to for this story cited regular, moderate exercise as the number one risk factor that could help prevent the onset of dementia.
And it doesn’t even have to be very hard, says Professor Brayne.
‘Just try and move more, from taking a 20 minute walk on most days to having a swim,’ she says.
‘Doing a sport is particularly helpful as it also involves social engagement, which is hugely important.’
THE FUTURE OF ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Simon Lovestone, professor of translational neuroscience at the University of Oxford, believes treatments to prevent damage to people’s memory could become a reality within 10 years
In August this year, a landmark study was launched at the University of Oxford which plans to identify the biomarkers, which can detect the occurrence of Alzheimer’s when a person has no obvious symptoms.
‘We know that Alzheimer’s disease starts long before it is noticed by those with the disease or their doctor,’ says Simon Lovestone, professor of translational neuroscience at the university.
‘Previous studies have shown changes to the brain as early as 10 to 20 years before symptoms arise.
‘If we can identify the biomarkers present in this very early stage, we have the chance of developing drugs that treat the disease early, thus preventing damage to people’s memory and thinking.’
He estimates that by 2025, such treatments may be a reality.
This article originally appeared and has been reproduced with the permission of Healthista.