Simple lifestyle changes such as taking more exercise and improving diet may protect against dementia in at-risk older adults, research suggests.

Scientists studied the effects of healthier living in 1,260 men and women aged 60 to 77 considered to be at risk of developing dementia due to factors such as their cardiovascular health.

Participants were split into two groups, one of which received an improvement programme that included nutritional guidance, physical exercise, mental training, social activities and heart health management.

After two years, these participants performed significantly better in a comprehensive mental ability test than the other group, that only received regular health advice.They also did better in specific tests of memory, mental processing speed and executive function, which includes planning, judgment and problem solving.

Lead researcher Miia Kivipelto, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said: “This is the first randomised control trial showing that it is possible to prevent cognitive decline using a multi-domain intervention among older at-risk individuals.

“Participants told us their experience was very positive, and the drop-out rate was only 11 per cent after two years.”

The scientists, whose findings were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Copenhagen, Denmark, now plan a seven-year follow-up study that will look at rates of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Laura Phipps, from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “While this study showed benefits of exercise on memory and thinking performance rather than focusing on whether it could prevent dementia, the results add to previous suggestions that adopting an overall healthy lifestyle is important for brain health as we get older. The findings build on previous evidence that several different lifestyle factors may be involved in our cognitive health, including exercise and heart health.

“It will be interesting to see the results of an extended version of this study and to look at the effects of these interventions on overall dementia risk within the group. It is also important for research to take into account other potential factors such as genetics in addition to age and cardiovascular health as indicators of dementia risk.”


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