Reducing the risk of dementia through lifestyle changes

June 18, 2018, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care
Female older adult exercising with an exercise bike at the Terraces of Baycrest. Credit: Provided by Baycrest

There is no treatment yet for dementia; but one day, a family doctor could prescribe a specific diet, an exercise regime, music or language lessons, or documentary discussion groups as treatments to ward off the disease.

Canadian researchers are recruiting across Toronto and Montreal to explore the benefits of different types of brain training and lifestyle interventions for two .

Baycrest researchers are playing a leading role in these studies, which are part of the work being done by the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA), a nation-wide initiative bringing together over 400 clinicians and researchers throughout Canada to accelerate progress in age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

"As researchers seek to better understand like dementia and develop appropriate treatments, more and more evidence suggests that changes to a person's lifestyle could reduce their risk of developing the disorder," says Dr. Nicole Anderson, senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute (RRI), lead Baycrest investigator on the cognitive training and engaging leisure clinical trial, and clinical trial team leader on a nutrition, exercise and lifestyle intervention.

Keeping the brain challenged to stay healthy

Numerous studies have shown that older adults who have pursued higher education and who engage in mentally stimulating careers and hobbies possess a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

This upcoming CCNA trial will be the first study to compare the brain health benefits of and its implementation in three engaging types of leisure activities, music and language lessons, and documentary discussion groups.

"The cognitive stimulation individuals receive throughout their lifetime builds up the brain's resilience against the detrimental effects of dementia-related neuropathology," says Dr. Anderson, who is also an associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Toronto. "In the absence of treatment, we need to think of ways to protect our brain health earlier and build up this protective factor, known as cognitive reserve, as a potential way to prevent Alzheimer's disease."

Your brain is what you eat (and do)

Exercise not only reduces a person's dementia risk, there is evidence that it can also improve a person's memory and thinking skills and even reverse some of the damage done to the brain during aging or from brain disorders.

"Our couch potato lifestyles are unhealthy for our brains," says Dr. Carol Greenwood, nutrition and brain health expert and senior scientist at the RRI. "Physical activity not only helps with the growth of new brain cells, it also helps those cells become integrated into a person's brain networks, which are then used to complete everyday tasks."

Meanwhile, healthy eating has been shown to help people retain cognitive function and reduce their dementia risk, adds Dr. Greenwood, who is leading the clinical trial exploring the effectiveness of a combined diet and exercise intervention. "People could reap greater brain health benefits when these lifestyle changes are paired together, compared to each lifestyle factor on its own," says Dr. Greenwood.

Researchers are seeking participants between the ages of 60 to 85 who have concerns about declining memory or thinking skills. Research participants would need to be available to partake in interventions at specific hospital sites, including Baycrest, and willing to undergo a complete medical assessment, including imaging.

Explore further: Baycrest launches study combining music and brain stimulation to improve memory

Related Stories

Baycrest launches study combining music and brain stimulation to improve memory

September 18, 2017
Baycrest will embark on the first study combining music therapy with brain stimulation to improve memory among patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

Baycrest creates first Canadian Brain Health Food Guide for adults

March 15, 2017
Baycrest scientists have led the development of the first Canadian Brain Health Food Guide to help adults over 50 preserve their thinking and memory skills as they age.

The brain combats dementia by shifting resources

April 11, 2018
The brain continues to put up a fight even as neurodegenerative diseases like dementia damage certain areas and functions. In fact, recent findings in a Baycrest-University of Arizona study suggest that one method the brain ...

Q&A: Lifelong strategies for preventing dementia

November 17, 2017
Dear Mayo Clinic: Do puzzles and other activities or apps that claim to lower one's risk of developing dementia actually work? Are there other things people can do to decrease the risk?

Learning music or speaking another language leads to more efficient brains

May 17, 2018
Whether you learn to play a musical instrument or speak another language, you're training your brain to be more efficient, suggests a Baycrest study.

Six things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia

April 4, 2018
An ageing population is leading to a growing number of people living with dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms including memory impairment, confusion, and loss of ability to carry out everyday activities.

Recommended for you

Practice imperfect—repeated cognitive testing can obscure early signs of dementia

July 12, 2018
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative condition that often begins with mild cognitive impairment or MCI, making early and repeated assessments of cognitive change crucial to diagnosis and treatment.

The 'Big Bang' of Alzheimer's: Scientists ID genesis of disease, focus efforts on shape-shifting tau

July 10, 2018
Scientists have discovered a "Big Bang" of Alzheimer's disease – the precise point at which a healthy protein becomes toxic but has not yet formed deadly tangles in the brain.

'Skinny fat' in older adults may predict dementia, Alzheimer's risk

July 5, 2018
A new study has found that "skinny fat—the combination of low muscle mass and strength in the context of high fat mass—may be an important predictor of cognitive performance in older adults. While sarcopenia, the loss ...

Pathway of Alzheimer's degeneration discovered

July 5, 2018
Scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) of McGill University have used a unique approach to track brain degeneration in Alzheimer's disease, uncovering a pathway through which degeneration ...

Brain study paves way for therapy for common cause of dementia

July 4, 2018
Scientists have uncovered a potential approach to treat one of the commonest causes of dementia and stroke in older people.

Sleep disorder linked with changes to brain structure typical of dementia

July 4, 2018
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is associated with changes to the structure of the brain that are also seen in the early stages of dementia, according to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.