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USF Researchers Focus on Strategies to Reduce Dementia Risks E-mail
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USF School of Aging Studies researchers review early, mid and later life strategies to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including genetic factors, diet, nutrition, supplements, social activities and exercise.

University of South Florida School of Aging Studies researchers Ross Andel and Tiffany Hughes published a paper in the inaugural issue of Aging Health (Vol.1 No1.) presenting a review of strategies that might help reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in later life. Andel, Hughes and co-author Michael Crowe from the University of Alabama at Birmingham reviewed genetic factors, early and midlife factors, cognitive training, medication and supplements and physical issues such as diet, nutrition and exercise.

"Cognitive decline and dementia are among the most feared age-related problems," said Andel. "Because of the aging baby boom population, prevention issues have taken the spotlight."

According to Andel, finding ways to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in later life has implications for the future of nursing homes, controlling health care costs and reducing the caregiving burden. More effective prevention would also help guarantee better wellbeing in later years. At issue, and covered in the review article, are commonly examined environmental risk factors for cognitive impairment.

"Although genetic factors are an important foundation of cognitive resources, researchers have explored numerous modifiable factors and preventive strategies that may slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk for cognitive impairment,"Andel explained.

When early life, midlife and more general factors were reviewed, having fewer siblings, suburban residence, more years of education and advantageous socioeconomic status of parents were among early life factors that seem to protect against cognitive impairment later, possibly by establishing cognitive reserve. Intellectual stimulation, in leisure or in occupation, was identified as a potential protective factor in midlife that may help maintain cognitive reserve in adult life.

With respect to more general and life-course factors, poor cardiovascular fitness, vascular disease and diabetes, as well as personality type and stress levels, were found to increase risk of cognitive impairment later in life. Low levels of folic acid and vitamin B12, high levels of low-density lipoproteins and low levels of high density lipoproteins emerged as important for risk of cognitive impairment.

On several other factors, both low and high levels (compared to medium levels) seemed to be associated with increased risk of cognitive impairment. For example, too low or too high caloric intake, blood sugar, diastolic blood pressure, as well as too low or too high levels of antioxidants (particularly vitamin E) and drinking too much alcohol, or not drinking alcohol at all, were risk factors for cognitive impairment.

More controversial strategies to reduce the risk of cognitive impairment, such as taking gingko biloba, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogen replacement therapy and the use of cholinesterase inhibitors in cognitively intact populations, were also discussed. The authors also examined the possibility that increased risk of dementia might be associated with high or low (as opposed to medium) levels on several risk factors including blood glucose, blood pressure, alcohol drinking or exercise.

"Although many risk factors are beyond control, research suggests there are numerous strategies that may help slow cognitive decline and/or reduce the risk of cognitive impairment," concluded Andel. "Future research should lead to better knowledge about risk factors and point to more specific strategies to promote the maintenance of cognitive abilities".

About Alzheimer's Disease 

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a slowly progressive disease of the brain that is characterized by impairment of memory and eventually by disturbances in reasoning, planning, language, and perception. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, which afflicts 24 million people worldwide. Alzheimer's disease is not a normal part of aging and is not something that inevitably happens in later life. It is rarely seen before the age of 65. The likelihood of having Alzheimer's disease increases substantially after the age of 70 and may affect around 50% of persons over the age of 85.  

 
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