Physical and mental exercises may protect against elderly cognitive decline

Physical, mental exercise can prevent cognitive decline in the elderly

Mental and physical exercises, along with healthy eating, can slow cognitive decline in the elderly, according to new research.

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Previous studies have shown links between cognitive decline and factors such as fitness, heart health, and diet. However, this trial was the first to use a control group versus a treatment group to prove that addressing risk factors could help slow or prevent cognitive deterioration.

The trial consisted of 1,260 participants aged 60 to 77 from across Finland. Half were randomly allocated to the control group, which received routine health advice. The other half formed the treatment group, which received intensive guidance on healthy eating, brain training, regular blood pressure testing, and other risk factors.

After two years, the participants' mental functions were scored using the standardized Neuropsychological Test Battery. The intervention group scored an average of 25 percent higher than the control group. In executive functioning -- the ability to organize and regulate thought processes -- and processing speed tests, the intervention group scored 83 percent and 150 percent higher respectively.

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The participants will be followed for at least seven more years to determine whether the reduction of cognitive decline in the intervention group is also followed by a reduction in diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

"Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health and fitness," said lead author Prof. Miia Kivipelto, from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

"However, our study is the first large randomized controlled trial to show that an intensive program aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia."

The study was published in The Lancet .

A 2012 study conducted by researchers affiliated with the Department of Neurology at the University of California, Irvine, found that regular exercise may ward off dementia in the oldest seniors.

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