Over the next few parts of my series on Alzheimer’s disease, I’ll address the basic ways that you could protect yourself from serious dementia. We don’t have to go gently into the night; we don’t have to suffer a failing memory without taking action ourselves.
Currently, there is no drug that can prevent Alzheimer’s. Therefore, the focus of intensive research in the last decade has been diet, dietary supplements and lifestyle changes as potential preventive interventions. It is estimated that if any preventive intervention could delay the onset of dementia such as Alzheimer’s by two years, then 25% of these cases could be prevented. It is estimated that an average one-year delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s translates into an annual savings of close to $10,0 billion in 10 years.
It has been well established that more-educated people have a lower rate of Alzheimer’s and other dementia when compared to those with less education. A lower level of education is estimated to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s by 30%. Moreover, those with higher level of education have a slower rate of cognitive decline during aging. In addition, those individuals who engage in cognitively
challenging activities, such as playing chess during their leisure time, have reduced risk of dementia. There are a few clinical trials that confirm these observational studies.
One of the best-known studies is the ACTIVE study in which cognitive training (memory, reasoning, and speed of processing information) in 2,802 elderly subjects led to cognitive improvements equivalent to a seven-year to 14-year reduction of the effect of normal aging. The SMART study (Study of Mental Activity and Regular Training for the Prevention of Cognitive Decline in at Risk Individuals) showed that progressively increasing the level of cognitive training was more effective in delaying cognitive decline
than a fixed and standardized cognitive training program. There is preliminary evidence that cognitive training could reduce atrophy in the hippocampus, with definite changes in cortical functions demonstrated by MRI. The hippo campus is part of the limbic system in our brain. It plays a very important role in consolidating short-term memory to long-term memory. In Alzheimer’s, the
hippocampus is among the first parts of the brain to suffer damage.
Read my previous article in this series: How Our Minds Betray Us