These are are sobering numbers. Today estimates from the Alzheimer’s Association suggest that about 44 million people are coping with dementia the world over, with that number expected to triple by 2050 to 115 million. So many people… so much misery. To combat these frightening numbers, experts discussed the latest research at the 2014 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Here are five important discoveries that came from the conference.
1. Having hypertension in old age may actually protect your brain. Though high blood pressure is known as the “silent killer”, a new study out of the University of California suggest that if you’re over 90 years old, this condition can actually save your brain cells.
The team followed 625 subjects who developed hypertension in their 90s for up to a decade and found that their risk for dementia was 55% lower than those who had a medical history of hypertension. Naturally the study isn’t saying hypertension is good for you, especially considering that it is tied to many other bad things.
Instead, the study presents the idea that when it comes to normal blood pressure, a one-size-fits-all approach may not be right for older people.
2. Lifestyle changes are better made late than never at all. There are a number of changes to lifestyle that can lower the risk for late life cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s. This finding comes as the result of a two-year clinical trial out of the Karolinska Institutet and the Finnish Institute for Health.
The work included 1,260 subjects who were from 60 to 77 years old. One group got a “lifestyle package” that included guidance on what to eat, physical activity and management of heart health risk factors, mental training and social function. The control group got standard health advice, and after two years, the lifestyle package group performed far better on tests of memory and thinking skills.
Start implementing those lifestyle changes at midlife and you can help fight off Alzheimer’s disease. It’s never too late.
3. Playing mental games makes your brain larger. Turns out middle-aged people who are avid game players tend to have bigger brains than those who didn’t do these kinds of activities according to a study that examined brain scans. Think of it like looking at muscle mass – bad when it’s small, good when it’s bigger.
When the researchers examined specific parts of the subject’s brains, they saw that that areas that tend to be damaged by Alzheimer’s disease were actually bigger. These larger areas are associated with higher scores on tests of cognitive ability. Mixing up the games, or engaging in another stimulating activity, is great for the brain – anything that offers a cognitive challenge keeps the brain in shape over the long haul.
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4. Exercise benefits your brain. Being active appears to slow the progression toward dementia according to two sets of data out of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging. What’s more, exercise positively influences how mild cognitive impairment and dementia present and progress.
In one group of subjects who had mild cognitive impairment, working out appeared to protect against developing dementia. Data for another group of healthy patients who exercised showed they were less apt to be diagnosed with cognitive impairment than those who did not exercise, either lightly or vigorously.
While not a cure, exercise is certainly good for your brain.
5. Alzheimer’s may soon be detected by a smell test. A test of your sense of smell might actually help your doctor tell if you are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Results from two separate projects find that those who were unable to identify some odors were more likely to experience cognitive impairment. The experts think that the brain cells that are key to a sense of smell may be killed off in the early stages of dementia. A simple, non-invasive diagnostic test would be a huge step forward.
With a test to spot the early symptoms, doctors believe they could intervene early and treat sooner, and this will slow the progression of this devastating disease.
To your good health,