A new study has added to the evidence that lifestyle changes could play a major part in preventing Alzheimer's disease, and according to researchers it may be the most conclusive yet. In the study, which was revealed at this year's Alzheimer's Association International Conference, a two-year course of intensive lifestyle changes was linked to better overall brain health, reported Time. Interventions included alterations to diet, exercise and social habits.
Seniors who ate healthier diets, got more exercise and interacted with peers more often were already known to have lower risk of developing dementia, researcher Miia Kivipelto told the source. However, no previous study has been able to identify whether the lower risk was a direct result of these lifestyle factors or of some unknown similarity between people who practiced them.
A more rigorous study
The new study removed the chance of unseen variables by randomly putting seniors into one of two groups, which were given different health instructions. One group was given standard health care, while the other was assigned to follow a course designed to cut Alzheimer's risk. The second group received customized diet advice and visits with a personal trainer and health care professional. Members of this group also helped support one another, for instance by calling other participants who failed to show up for group exercise classes. After just two years, the group with the more intensive changes to lifestyle performed better at memory and cognitive tests.
"We were surprised that were able to see a clear difference already after two years," Kivipelto told Time. "We thought that two years may not be enough, but the multi-domain approach seems to be an effective way of doing something to protect memory."
Kivipelto said that her team plans to conduct another survey of participants in seven years to see if the benefits of a lifestyle change continue to make a difference. She told Time that she hopes the social support built into the program will help keep them on track until then.
Dementia rates fall for some
According to the Daily Mail, Kivipelto's study wasn't the only good news reported at the meeting. Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine strengthened the case for lifestyle changes in Alzheimer's care, reporting that, throughout the U.S. and Europe, dementia rates have fallen during the last three decades. The team said that Americans over 60 have had their risk of developing dementia cut by 44 percent from where it was 30 years ago. Rates of dementia in women decreased more during that time than it did in men.
However, this progress was only seen in wealthy nations, such as the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. Researchers credited the increasing level of education and rising use of heart disease interventions for the improvements. High blood pressure or cholesterol and smoking are risk factors for dementia, according to the source, so better heart medications and a decline in smoking rates may have helped to bring the number of people with dementia down. In less wealthy countries, higher rates of obesity and diabetes are suspected to increase the rate of dementia. People who are obese earlier in life have nearly four times the dementia risk of people who maintain a healthy weight, according to the source.
More people pursuing higher education could also be a factor in dementia's decline. The source reported that people who stay in school longer may see a delayed onset of dementia. Researchers found that the average age at which dementia develops has risen as overall rates of the disease fall. Dementia used to set in at around age 80, but now is more likely to occur at 85.