No proven ways to stave off Alzheimer’s
There are no proven ways to stave off Alzheimer’s, but a new report raises the prospect that avoiding nine key risks starting in childhood just might delay or even prevent about a third of dementia cases around the world.
How? It has to do with lifestyle factors that may make the brain more vulnerable to problems with memory and thinking as we get older. They’re such risks as not getting enough education early in life, high blood pressure and obesity in middle age, and being sedentary and socially isolated in the senior years.
Thursday’s report in the British journal Lancet is provocative - its authors acknowledge their estimate is theoretical, based on statistical modeling. A recent U.S. report was much more cautious, saying there are encouraging hints that a few lifestyle changes can bolster brain health but little if any proof.
Still, it’s never too early to try, said Lancet lead author Gill Livingston, a psychiatry professor at University College London.
“Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before,” she noted.
Early next year, a $20 million U.S. study will begin rigorously testing if some simple day-today activities truly help older adults stay sharp. In the meantime, Alzheimer’s specialists say there’s little down side to certain common-sense recommendations.
“Increased health of the body supports increased health of the brain,” said cognitive neuroscientist Laura Baker of Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, who will lead the upcoming U.S. study.
Consider physical activity, crucial for heart health. “If in fact it should also improve the prospects for cognitive function and dementia, all the better,” said Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the U.S. National Institute on Aging and an avid exerciser.
Here’s the latest from this week’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on possible ways to guard your brain:
A Lancet-appointed panel created a model of dementia risks throughout life that estimates about 35 per cent of all cases of dementia are attributable to nine risk factors - risks that people potentially could change.
Their resulting recommendations: Ensure good childhood education; avoid high blood pressure, obesity and smoking; manage diabetes, depression and age-related hearing loss; be physically active; stay socially engaged in old age.
The theory: These factors together play a role in whether your brain is resilient enough to withstand years of silent damage that eventually leads to Alzheimer’s.
Last month, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine reported there’s little rigorous proof. That report found some evidence that controlling blood pressure, exercise and some forms of brain training - keeping intellectually stimulated - might work and couldn’t hurt.
Why? What’s good for the heart is generally good for the brain. In fact, high blood pressure that can trigger heart attacks and strokes also increase risk for what’s called “vascular dementia.”
In this Oct. 7, 2003, file photo, a section of a human brain with Alzheimer’s disease is on display at the Museum of Neuroanatomy at the University at Buffalo, in Buffalo, N.Y.