The Finnish study is the first ever to properly test a special programme to prevent age-related cognitive decline.
The two-year study had 1,260 people aged 60-77 randomly assigned to either receive some general health advice or the special programme.
Here is some of the advice those in the special programme group were given:
1. DietPeople were advised to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and low-fat milk and meat products.
They were also told to eat no more than 50g of sugar each day and to have at least two portions of fish each week.
2. Cognitive trainingPeople were given computer brain training sessions and given advice on memory and reasoning strategies they could use.
This could probably be substituted with generally keeping mentally active.
This might include things like reading, doing puzzles and being engaged with life.
3. ExerciseFor physical exercise, the advice was to do some strength training, one to three times a week.
Aerobic exercise was recommended two to five times a week.
The exercise advice was tailored to the individual: some were able to do more, others less.
4. Medical managementBlood pressure was checked, along with weight and BMI.
Based on this they were given more recommendations for potential lifestyle changes.
Participants were advised to see their doctor for any medication they might need.
Prevent dementia?The study found that after two years, those who had received the special programme scored 25% higher on a neuropsychological test.
On a test of processing speed, though, the special programme group did 150% better.
On a measure of executive functioning — which controls memory, reasoning and problem solving — the special programme group had scores 83% higher.
Professor Miia Kivipelto, who led the research, said:
“Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health, and fitness.The study now continues for at least another seven years to look at whether it can prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
However, our study is the first large randomised 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 (Ngandu et al., 2015).