The study found that regular exercise and a healthy diet may ‘provide a cognitive reserve’ that prevents negative changes to the brain, limiting the chances of dementia
A healthy lifestyle may help build up a ‘cognitive reserve’ in the brain which could help stave off dementia, new research has shown.
The study, published this week in the journal JAMA Neurology, analysed the lifestyles of 586 people who lived to an average age of 91. Each were given a healthy lifestyle score based on their lifestyle choices and end-of-life mental skills and, after their deaths, were the subject of a brain autopsy to determine neurological signs of dementia.
Doctors found that a higher lifestyle score was associated with better global cognitive functioning proximate to death. Research showed that the build up of brain protein plaques or changes in brain blood flow – all common signs of dementia – did not greatly impact the positive connection between healthy living and a person’s end-of-live mental skills.
Of the 586 people who took part in the study, 415 were female and 171 were male. Dr. Klodian Dhana, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, led the study which found that regular exercise and a healthy diet may “provide a cognitive reserve” that prevents negative changes to the brain.
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“This study found that in older adults, a healthy lifestyle may provide a cognitive reserve to maintain cognitive abilities independently of common neuropathologies of dementia,” the report reads. Each person who took part in the research was given a lifestyle score based on self-reported factors, including whether they smoked, if they did at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and how much alcohol they consumed.
Every one-point increase in a person’s lifestyle score was associated with a rise in their “global cognitive score” at the end of life, the researchers found. However, from the brain autopsies doctors established that protein plaques and tangles or impaired vasculature did not affect a person’s mental score if they had led a healthy lifestyle.
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Dr. Liron Sinvani, who directs geriatric hospitalist services at Northwell Health in Uniondale, New York, told US News: “If you take two people and they both have the same amount of this bad protein in their brain, the person who has the healthier lifestyle will be able to have better function, cognitively. You can function at a higher level, function normally, function without impairment for longer.”
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International there are more than 55 million people worldwide living with dementia. Symptoms of dementia include; loss of memory, difficulty in finding the right words or understanding what people are saying, and difficulty in performing previously routine tasks.