These Healthy Choices Might Reduce Dementia Risk

Dementia risk reduced in elderly patients after healthy diet, exercise and brain training

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many people exercise and eat healthily to improve their overall physical health, but those habits might also boost mental health.

A new study found that mental function improved in elderly patients at risk for dementia when they followed a program of eating healthily, exercising and brain training.

Miia Kivipelto, PhD, of the Karolinska Institutet Center for Alzheimer Research in Stockholm, Sweden, led this study.

"Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health, and fitness," Dr. Kivipelto said in a press release. "Our study is the first large randomized controlled trial to show that an intensive program aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people."

Michelle Papka, PhD, a neuropsychologist at the Memory Disorders Program at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ, told dailyRx News that "this, and other more recent studies, confirm that a healthy lifestyle program can be used as an intervention for lowering the risk for dementia, and, therefore, has a great impact on how we may treat patients concerned about cognitive decline."

Dr. Papka also offered some advice to patients.

"I recommend that patients eat a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet, exercise — including cardiovascular training, which has been shown to lower the risk for dementia, moreso than other types of exercise — and to be as active and interactive as possible," she said. "It is important for people to remain socially engaged and to participate in activities that bring them joy, whether it be a card game, knitting, playing an instrument, a computer game, or whatever else is stimulating and rewarding."

Dr. Kivipelto and team studied nearly 1,300 patients who were at risk for dementia. All patients were between 60 and 77 years old.

Patients were randomly divided into either an intervention or control group. The intervention included following a specific diet, strength training and aerobic exercise and mental training. The control group only received health advice.

Overall change in cognition was assessed 12 and 24 months after group randomization by standard tests for mental function.

Dr. Kivipelto and team found that the test scores in patients in the intervention group were 25 percent higher than those in the control group on average. A higher score meant greater mental function.

Intervention patients also showed increases in executive functioning and processing speed. Executive functions include attention, memory, problem-solving, self-control and reasoning. Processing speed is the speed at which the brain responds to new information.

Patients in the control group had a 31 percent increased risk of overall cognitive decline.

Dr. Kivipelto and team found that intervention also improved body mass index (BMI), dietary habits and physical activity. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

Dr. Kivipelto and team noted that 33 percent of Alzheimer's disease cases worldwide may be attributed to a lack of education, physical inactivity, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, smoking and depression. Keeping healthy and active, both physically and mentally, may reduce those rates.

"Such small changes imply large effects, and if the beneficial effects on cognition observed in [this study] will lead to even a modest delay in onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease, it would have a huge effect on both individual and societal levels," Dr. Kivipelto and team wrote.

This study was published online March 12 in The Lancet.

Grants from the Academy of Finland's Responding to Public Health Challenges Research Programme and other sources funded this research. Dr. Kivipelto and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
March 11, 2015
Last Updated:
March 13, 2015