Prevention-focused research is continually taking place around the world. Here, we summarize selected studies from peer-reviewed journals.
Note: In terms of research related to Alzheimer's disease or in general, AFCC believes that it is important for consumers to look beneath the headlines of announcements about drug trial results and other research—to differentiate conclusions from non-human rodent studies and those involving humans, to note which phase a trial is in, and to question the source of the findings. Only data published in a peer-reviewed journal has meaningful efficacy. Release of human trial data in press releases generated by pharmaceutical companies or in a poster format alone, without the next step of a peer-reviewed journal, means that the results have not yet been published in a manner that allows for scholarly criticism. The latter is the marker that consumers should look for. In addition, AFCC advises consumers to be aware that limitations may exist, such as problems in measurements, human error, etc., and results are subject to change with future research and advances in the field. It is always important to discuss research findings with a healthcare professional before adjusting treatments, lifestyle, etc.
Before you reach for a pain reliever, consider this new research. It found that anti-inflammatory drugs—commonly sold under brand names Advil, Motrin and Aleve—may actually increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease among older adults, rather than protect against it as had been found in previous studies of younger persons. Those who heavily consumed pain relievers at enrollment or during follow-up had a 66 percent greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, compared to those who rarely or never took them. The study involved 2,736 persons with a median age of 75 who did not have dementia at the onset.
Does cognitive decline start in the 20s? New research indicates that mental abilities peak at an average age of 22 and then start declining five years later. In the study, individuals showed a marked decline at age 27 in tests that measured speed of thought, reasoning and spatial visualization. Memory remained intact until age 37.
Screening and treatment of metabolic syndrome grow in importance. Post-menopausal women with metabolic syndrome had a 66 percent increased risk of developing cognitive impairment compared to women without the syndrome, according to a study involving nearly 5,000 participants. Each additional symptom added a 23 percent greater risk. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by the presence of three or more of five symptoms: abdominal obesity, elevated blood triglycerides, reduced HDL (“good” cholesterol), elevated blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
The Mediterranean is calling. Sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet—inspired by the habits of some Mediterranean countries—was associated with a reduced risk both for developing mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and for transitioning from MCI to dementia, according to an observational study of multi-ethnic people. Those who adhered to the diet the most reaped the greatest benefit. The diet’s major components are: loads of fruits and vegetables; healthy fats like olive oil versus saturated or trans-fats; regular consumption of fish; moderate consumption of red wine; and limited intake of red meat.
Escape secondhand smoke. A large-scale study has found that exposure to secondhand smoke may increase the odds of cognitive impairment. After testing saliva samples for cotinine, a chemical made by the body from nicotine that can measure exposure to cigarette smoke, researchers determined that nonsmokers aged 50 and older with both low and high levels of cotinine had significant risk of impairment. On the upper end, the highest cotinine levels produced a 44 percent greater risk of cognitive impairment.
Evidence continues to mount linking diabetes and dementia. Individuals with an onset of diabetes before age 65 face a 125 percent increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, according to a large-scale study involving Swedish twins. The risk was the same when genetics and childhood environment were accounted for. According to Margaret Gatz, a professor at the University of Southern California and the lead researcher, the results “highlight the need to maintain a healthy lifestyle during adulthood in order to reduce the risk of dementia late in life.”
Whether it’s Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts or another coffee of choice, this pick-me-up beverage can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research. Examining the drinking habits of about 1,400 middle-aged people in Finland over 21 years, scientists found that those who consumed three to five cups of coffee daily cut their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease/dementia later in life by 60 percent to 65 percent, compared to those who drank little or no coffee. Tea consumption was also tracked; however, it was relatively uncommon and not associated with dementia.
“The finding needs to be confirmed by other studies, but it opens the possibility that dietary interventions could modify the risk,” said Miia Kivipelto, the lead researcher and an associate professor at the University of Kuopio, Finland.
You might want to get out your calorie counter. Reducing calorie intake improves cognition in aging adults, according to a new study. It found that healthy but overweight adults, as measured by body mass index, who cut calories by 30 percent over a three-month period had improved memory and thinking skills. The results could be linked to reduced insulin resistance and inflammation, the study indicated.
Go with the flow. Now, a new study reinforces the cliché. In exploring the connection between personality traits and lifestyle factors and the risk of dementia, scientists concluded that relaxed individuals had a 50 percent less chance of developing dementia than those who were neurotic or overanxious and socially isolated. While the super-outgoing in the cool, calm and collected group had the lowest dementia risk, even their counterparts with less active social lives halved the risk of the disorder.
Before you light up, consider more evidence that smoking is bad for your health—especially if you’re 65 or older. An analysis of two dozen published studies involving older adults found that current smokers face a significantly higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than non-smokers. Plus, the nicotine habit may also boost the chances of other types of dementia and cognitive decline. In their discussion, the UK authors said their findings match other data that links smoking with cardiovascular disease, stroke and other conditions that are risk factors for dementia. While the review did not clearly associate ex-smoking with the brain disorder, the authors noted, “Evidence presented here adds another reason for ceasing to smoke or for preventing smoking from starting.”
Trouble getting some shut-eye? In exploring a possible link between sleep and cognitive performance among African-American elderly, researchers found that those individuals who had problems falling asleep scored worse on tests for short-term memory and working memory than those without sleep difficulty. “If we can better understand how sleep quantity, as well as quality, influences general cognitive functioning, perhaps we could better maintain memory throughout life, including later in life,” said Alyssa A. Gamaldo, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student at North Carolina State University.
New thoughts emerge on Ginkgo biloba... Scientists assessed the effectiveness of the Ginkgo biloba herbal extract in dementia prevention, and found that there was no benefit for elderly study participants—aged 75 or older with normal cognition or mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The rate of total dementia, Alzheimer’s-type dementia and progression from MCI to dementia did not differ between participants who took Ginkgo biloba versus a placebo. "Based on the results of this trial, Ginkgo biloba cannot be recommended for the purpose of preventing dementia," the authors wrote.
Research to come soon...
Many socialize for the sheer fun of it. Now, additional research shows a potential health benefit: men actively engaged in midlife had less likelihood of dementia in later life. The study followed 147 pairs of male twins for 28 years. Twins involved in a high level of cognitive and socially engaging activities had a 26 percent reduced risk of the onset of dementia. Among the pairs who were identical twins with the APOE-4 gene—a recognized risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease— there was a 30 percent risk reduction among the pairs who were identical twins with the AOPE-4 gene — a recognized risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer's disease.
Don’t wait for New Year’s resolutions to start exercising. An Australian study of 138 women and men over the age of 50 with memory problems, but not dementia, performed slightly better on cognitive tests after completing a moderate intensity exercise program compared to those in the control group . The regimen consisted of 50 minutes of exercise—mostly walking—three times a week for 24 weeks.
Are you eating food rich in vitamin B12? Through a combination of blood samples, brain scans and memory tests over a five-year period, researchers found that older, community-dwelling adults who had high levels of vitamin B12 were six times less likely to lose brain volume than those with lower levels of the nutrient. Their conclusion: vitamin B12 status should be further investigated as a cause of likely subsequent cognitive impairment in the elderly. B12 can be found in meat, fish, milk and fortified cereals.
Look beyond the norm for treatment therapies. That’s the recommendation of scientists who found that a blend of support groups, cognitive behavioural psychotherapy and Taiji and qigong—Chinese martial arts that involve simple physical movement and meditation—over 40 weeks improved cognitive function, physical function and higher self-esteem for persons in the early stages of dementia.