Studies Show Ways to Reduce the Likelihood of Developing Alzheimer’s

By Juliet Holt Klinger, Guest Blogger

Last week was a rich one for Alzheimer’s and dementia news as the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2016 International Conference (AAIC) was held in Toronto. Those of us who highlight the latest and most promising research in Alzheimer’s and dementia had plenty of items to choose from.

When it come to preventing Alzheimer’s, or at least slowing its effects on our brains, there is both bad news and good news. The bad news: As we age, we develop an even greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s, especially if our lifestyle is sedentary, our eating is unhealthy and we spend a lot of time staring into TV and/or computer screens. It might seem obvious that in order to lower your risk of getting dementia changing your lifestyle would be mandatory, or is that really the case?

Here’s what appears to be the good news—three studies presented at this year’s conference show that there are things baby boomers can do to reduce the chances of being affected by cognitive decline. Although more study is certainly needed, the findings are positive, with some studies even suggesting ways we can “counteract” the effects of our unhealthy diets and cerebrovascular disease with enjoyable activities.

Brain training
The most promising study was the ACTIVE Study (Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly) that assessed the effects of three computerized brain training programs. The first author of the new study, University of South Florida associate professor Jerri Edwards, was reported in the LA Times, saying that “the ACTIVE study’s findings appear to be a milestone — ‘the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial.’” (An NBC article notes that Edward’s mentor, who happens to be the primary developer of the intervention, sold her rights to a company who now sells the cognitive training online at brainhq.com.) It will be interesting to follow the results through the peer-review process.

Mental stimulation
The second noteworthy research release from the conference appeared in an article in the Washington Post. This article highlights two studies that show that maintaining a mentally stimulating lifestyle and working in a complex setting with intricate social demands, particularly those that involve mentoring or helping others, show promise as a way to build up cognitive reserve.

My personal favorite was the study that found that “while a ‘Western’ diet (characterized by red and processed meats, white bread, potatoes, pre-packaged foods and sweets) is associated with cognitive decline, people who ate such food could offset the negative effects and experienced less cognitive decline if they also had a mentally stimulating lifestyle.”

So, perhaps we can have our cake and eat it too?

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Juliet Holt Klinger, Senior Director of Dementia Care for Brookdale Senior Living is a gerontologist specializing in person-centered programs for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. As a trainer and program designer for close to 30 years, she has developed and operationalized programs for national companies representing both skilled nursing and assisted living levels of dementia care.
 
Juliet holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and an Aging Studies Certificate from the University of Iowa and a Master’s Degree in Gerontology from the University of Northern Colorado. 
 
In her role for Brookdale, Juliet currently designs and innovates care pathways and programming for Brookdale’s 560+ dementia care communities. Brookdale’s dementia care solutions span from its newest early-stage dementia care communities to skilled nursing and assisted living levels of care.

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