It seems like something we’ve heard before: some news report cites evidence that suggests a strategy that can delay or even prevent the onset of cognitive decline. But this article that recently appeared on the website of Kaiser Health News may be the real thing. “In a landmark report,” the article asserts, “scientists have endorsed three strategies for preventing dementia and cognitive decline associated with normal aging – being physically active, engaging in cognitive training and controlling high blood pressure.”
The article, written by aging expert Judith Graham, states that this represents the first time medical and scientific experts convened by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine “have deemed scientific evidence strong enough to suggest that preventing dementia and age-related cognitive decline might be possible.” This is a change from a comparable report issued seven years ago: at that time a similar group of experts declined to make any definitive recommendation about curbing dementia because, they said, the data available at the time didn’t offer conclusive support. Today, things have changed. Even though the new findings are not completely definitive, one member of the 17-person panel that prepared this new report said that the evidence supporting this new multi-pronged approach was “encouraging.”
Scientists behind the report were quick to point out that this recently endorsed regimen of physical activity, cognitive training and blood pressure control is not a guarantee that you or your loved one will never face dementia. “You can do everything right and still get dementia later in life,” said one panelist. The authors of the report also emphasized that these three disciplines don’t represent the only dementia preventatives that show promise. Other things like managing diabetes, controlling cholesterol, getting enough sleep and maintaining a proper diet all play a part. The main take-away from this and other dementia studies is that your lifestyle choices can play a significant role in increasing or diminishing your risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of cognitive decline. In fact, one separate report estimated that if people worldwide made healthier choices, the incidence of dementia could be reduced by one-third.
According to the Kaiser Health News article, our mental processing generally slows down and our memory tends to become less reliable as we get older. This “age-related cognitive decline” is a normal part of aging, affecting some people differently than others. The newly issued report suggests that both cognitive training and staying physically active seem to have the potential to slow this process down – but these strategies don’t appear to work so well on other forms of dementia. “Managing high blood pressure is the only strategy thought to have the potential to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease,” Kaiser reports. But no matter which combination you incorporate into your lifestyle, doctors stress that it’s important to start early. “It’s now known that biological changes associated with Alzheimer’s and related dementias begin a decade or more before any symptoms become evident. So it’s best to make recommended lifestyle changes early and sustain them over time,” says the Kaiser analysis.
For example, the earlier you start a healthy level of physical activity, the easier it will be to sustain it and the greater the benefit. But starting to exercise when you’re in your 60s or 70s after a life of sitting at a desk or lounging in a recliner is extremely difficult. In the same way, the sooner you get your blood pressure under control the better your health will be – but even if you’re well along in years, if your blood pressure is still high, you need to address it. Finally, when it comes to mental stimulation, evidence is inconclusive about which types of cognitive activity work best to aid the brain’s health. But one article we read some time ago strongly suggests that interpersonal interaction ought to be emphasized, as opposed to working puzzles, playing games or using a computer all by yourself. Human interaction with all its complexity and nuance seems to force the brain to work harder, and that’s a good thing.
And by the way, says the Kaiser article, there’s no evidence to suggest that supplements such as gingko biloba or vitamin E do any measurable good in maintaining brain health. Your overall approach to nutrition, doctors say, is far more important than any one food or nutrient.
Here at AgingOptions our strong advice when it comes to maintaining good physical and mental health as you age is to put your health care into the trained hands of a qualified geriatrician. These professionals understand the needs of seniors and they are trained to approach your health care holistically. Best of all, a geriatrician will take time to listen to you and treat you with individualized care, not to mention an abundance of dignity and respect. Call us at AgingOptions and we can refer you to a geriatrician in your area.
For a holistic approach to your retirement, we highly recommend that you explore the advantages of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Only with a LifePlan will all the major facets of your retirement be incorporated into one comprehensive strategy: your financial, legal, medical, housing and family needs will all work seamlessly together. If this sounds like a powerful approach to retirement, it is – and if you’re ready to find out more, all it takes is a few hours and an open mind. Come to one of our free LifePlanning Seminar at a location near you. It will be just about the most important step you can take in preparing for a retirement that’s secure and fruitful. Registration is easy: you can click here for online registration or contact us for assistance during the week. Replace fear, worry and uncertainty with confidence and optimism. Attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.
(originally reported at www.khn.org)