By Hugh Finlay
In the UK, a report in the scientific journal Lancet has claimed that up to 35% of dementia cases could be prevented by making lifestyle changes. The lead author of the report, Gill Livingstone, said "Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before."
Dementia is becoming such a widespread problem that a US study costing $20 million, and lead by Laura Baker from Wake Forest School of Medicine, North Carolina, is being prepared to see if lifestyle changes can make a difference to staving off dementia. Laura Baker acknowledges that "Increased health of the body supports increased health of the brain." The study will look at 2,500 older people who may be prone to dementia in the future, to see if changes in lifestyle such as the ones listed below can help to stop the onset of dementia.
2. Dietary changes: eating more whole grains, fish, poultry and vegetables including leafy greens than is in the average American would eat.
3.Greater control of high blood pressure and diabetes (things which have been shown to have toxic effects on the brain).
4.Various games to stimulate their intellectual abilities social skills.
This is in response to a sizable study in Finland which discovered that people who may be prone to dementia, showed a dramatic improvement in thinking ability, after having 2 years of cognitive stimulation, exercise, social activities and dietary improvements.
A panel of experts, appointed by Lancet, concluded that there are 9 factors which contribute, over the years, to the breakdown in the strength and flexibility of the nervous system, and therefore leads to the development of dementia. The 9 factors are:
1. Poor childhood education,
2. High blood pressure
7. Decline in hearing ability
8. Lack of physical exercise
9. Lack of social activity
The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine takes a more cautious view, pointing out that there is little rigorous proof that the factors listed above contribute to dementia. But they admit that taking exercise, looking after blood pressure, and staying intellectually active may help in preventing dementia. The idea is that anything that can improve the health of the heart and the body. will also have beneficial effect on the brain. Intellectual work can increase the amount of grey matter in the brain. Learning things increases the amount of connections that are made in the brain. The technical term for this is cognitive reserve, the accumulated storehouse of connections in the brain. Some studies indicate that those who are better educated are less prone to dementia, than those who are less well educated.
Studies show that people with hearing loss tend also to have memory problems, but scientists have not yet discovered why this is so.
So the scientific community awaits with interest, the results of this new US research study.