Tag Archives: dementia

More on the Cognitive Benefits of Moderate Exercise

“There is over­whelm­ing evid­ence that exer­cise pro­duces large cog­nit­ive gains and helps fight demen­tia”, says the Har­vard Uni­ver­sity psy­cho­lo­gist John Ratey, author of the 2008 book on the sub­ject, Spark.

While Ratey pro­pounds the “very clear” link between exer­cise and men­tal acu­ity, say­ing that even mod­er­ate exer­cise pushes back cog­nit­ive decline by “any­where from 10 to 15 years”, the Nation­al Insti­tutes of Health are more cau­tious:

Look­ing at redu­cing the risk of “cog­nit­ive decline in older adults,” [the NIH] wrote: “Pre­lim­in­ary evid­ence sug­gests a bene­fi­cial asso­ci­ation of phys­ic­al activ­ity and a range of leis­ure activ­it­ies (e.g., club mem­ber­ship, reli­gious ser­vices, paint­ing, garden­ing) with the pre­ser­va­tion of cog­nit­ive func­tion.” A few small stud­ies showed that “increased phys­ic­al activ­ity may help main­tain or improve cog­nit­ive func­tion in nor­mal adults”.

I’ve writ­ten before about the extens­ive cog­nit­ive bene­fits of exer­cise, but as Noah Gray (via) says, “it nev­er hurts to rein­force the mes­sage”.

Bilingualism and Dementia

I’ve noted pre­vi­ously how child bilin­gual­ism improves the “exec­ut­ive func­tions” and a recent study has cor­rob­or­ated these find­ings while also dis­cov­er­ing how bilin­gual­ism can stave off demen­tia in old age:

[Psy­cho­lo­gist Ellen Bailys­tok] wanted to explore wheth­er enhanced exec­ut­ive con­trol actu­ally has a pro­tect­ive effect in men­tal aging—specifically, wheth­er bilin­gual­ism con­trib­utes to the “cog­nit­ive reserve” that comes from stim­u­lat­ing social, men­tal and phys­ic­al activ­ity. She stud­ied a large group of men and women with demen­tia, and com­pared the onset of their first symp­toms. The age of onset for demen­tia was a full four years later in bilin­guals than in patients who had lived their lives speak­ing just one lan­guage. That’s a whop­ping dif­fer­ence. Delay­ing demen­tia four years is more than any known drug can do, and could rep­res­ent a huge sav­ings in health care costs.

Is there any down­side to bilin­gual­ism? Yes. […] Bia­lys­tok’s stud­ies also found that bilin­guals have less lin­guist­ic pro­fi­ciency in either of their two lan­guages than do those who only speak that lan­guage. They have some­what smal­ler vocab­u­lar­ies, for example, and aren’t as rap­id at retriev­ing word mean­ings. But com­pared to the dra­mat­ic cog­nit­ive advant­ages of learn­ing a second lan­guage, that seems a small price to pay.

via @siibo

Social Cognition and Staving Off Dementia

A lon­git­ud­in­al study of health and men­tal lucid­ity in the aged—focusing on the huge retire­ment com­munity of Laguna Woods Vil­lage south of Los Angeles—is start­ing to show some res­ults.

From study­ing mem­bers of the so-called ‘super memory club’ (people aged 90+ with near-per­fect cog­nit­ive abil­it­ies) it is being sug­ges­ted that not all men­tal activ­it­ies are equal when it comes to stav­ing off demen­tia, and social intereac­tions may be vastly more import­ant that pre­vi­ously thought.

The research­ers have also demon­strated that the per­cent­age of people with demen­tia after 90 does not plat­eau or taper off, as some experts had sus­pec­ted. It con­tin­ues to increase, so that for the one in 600 people who make it to 95, nearly 40 per­cent of the men and 60 per­cent of the women qual­i­fy for a dia­gnos­is of demen­tia.

So far, sci­ent­ists here have found little evid­ence that diet or exer­cise affects the risk of demen­tia in people over 90. But some research­ers argue that men­tal engage­ment — doing cross­word puzzles, read­ing books — may delay the arrival of symp­toms. And social con­nec­tions, includ­ing inter­ac­tion with friends, may be very import­ant, some sus­pect. In isol­a­tion, a healthy human mind can go blank and quickly become dis­or­i­ented.

via Mind Hacks

The Nun Study

The ‘Nun Study’ is a lon­git­ud­in­al study of age­ing and Alzheimer­’s that uses data gathered from over 600 nuns over the past 20+ years. Some inter­est­ing cor­rel­ates are start­ing to appear:

The nuns make for a very unique pop­u­la­tion to study […] because of their sim­il­ar life­styles.

“They don’t smoke, they don’t drink, so you can reduce the effects of some of these oth­er envir­on­ment­al factors, and focus in on oth­er factors that might be harder to get your hands around in oth­er pop­u­la­tion stud­ies.” […]

Among the study’s find­ings are a rela­tion­ship between early child­hood edu­ca­tion and redu­cing the sus­cept­ib­il­ity to Alzheimer’s dis­ease, [and] a rela­tion­ship between trau­mas to the brain, such as strokes, and an increased sus­cept­ib­il­ity to Alzheimer­’s. […]

Anoth­er inter­est­ing find­ing has been that some of the nuns brains look like they have Alzheimer­’s but the women wer­en’t exhib­it­ing symp­toms before they died.

“If that’s the case, there may be things you can do, even though you have the dis­ease to slow down or pre­vent the expres­sion of the dis­ease symp­toms”.

Read­ing this art­icle, I’m not sure what I enjoyed the most: learn­ing about this fas­cin­at­ing study, or the pic­ture of the neuro­path­o­lo­gist stand­ing in front of over 600 plastic con­tain­ers each hold­ing a nun­’s brain!

For more inform­a­tion on this study, Time wrote a com­pre­hens­ive art­icle back in 2001, and there’s a ded­ic­ated sec­tion on the Uni­ver­sity of Min­nesota’s site.

via @mocost