Healthy living helps halt mental decline in seniors

  • AFP
  • Updated: Mar 16, 2015 17:53 IST

As per studies done by Scandinavian researchers, effective diet, exercise, brain training and health risk management were the building blocks of an intervention for seniors that appeared to slow down cognitive decline.

Carried out as part of the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) study, the intervention was designed to tackle age-related dementia by addressing high body mass index (BMI) and heart health.

Working with 1,260 seniors in Finland between the ages of 60 and 77, the research team randomly selected half of them to receive the intervention and allocated the others to a control group that received advice, but no direct care.

Standardised testing indicated all participants were at risk of developing dementia.

Over two years, the intervention group met regularly with health professionals who provided diet guidance and led them in both strength training and cardiovascular exercise programmes.

When the programme ended, all participants were assessed for cognitive function using the Neuropsychological Test Battery (NTB), a standardised test upon which the intervention group scored 25 percent higher than the control group overall.
Of notable interest to the researchers was that the intervention group scored 83 percent higher than the control group on parts of the test that involved executive functioning and they scored 150 percent higher than the control group in processing speed.

The intervention did not change participants' ability to memorise things, according to the paper, which was published in The Lancet.

Another recent study, published in the journal Neurology, suggests that exercise protects parts of seniors' brains involving their movement and coordination.

Working with 167 participants whose average age was 80, researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago in the US hooked them up to wearable trackers for 11 days and tested their motor skills.

At the end of the experiment, they used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to determine the volume of white matter in small portions of the brain associated with movement.

For the most physically active participants -- the top ten percent -- damage to these parts of the brain didn't affect their movement.

For those at the mean average activity level -- the 50th percent -- the damage was associated with significantly lower scores on the tests of their motor skills.

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