Page last updated: Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Prevention of dementia
A series of new research studies - examining topics including level of social activity, heart disease risk factors, education, consumption of fruit and vegetable juices, exercise and alcohol intake – add to the growing body of scientific evidence that lifestyle habits are closely linked to risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

“These studies suggest that we can maintain a healthy brain and perhaps reduce our risk for Alzheimer’s disease by living a healthful lifestyle – in particular staying socially involved, remaining mentally active, improving our diets and exercising,” said Ron Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Center (Rochester, MN) and member of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council.

Twins study reveals several modifiable risk factors for dementia

Margaret Gatz, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California and Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues evaluated participants in the Study of Dementia in Swedish Twins, which followed more than 100 pairs of identical twins from the Swedish Twin Registry in which one twin had dementia and the other did not.

The researchers found that no single risk factor could explain in all cases why one twin would become demented or why the twin sibling would not. However, they did discover several patterns. The twin with dementia was more likely to have had a stroke, periodontal disease earlier in life (an index of exposure to inflammation), and fewer years of education. “While genetic factors are significant in explaining why some people develop dementia and others do not, our research suggests that there are certain risk factors over which an individual may be able to exert some influence earlier in his or her life,” Gatz said.

Antioxidant rich drinks may reduce risk for Alzheimer’s disease

Amy Borenstein, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health, and colleagues presented research suggesting that antioxidants abundant in fruit and vegetable juices (wine and many beers and ciders) may play an important role in reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers studied more than 1,800 older Japanese American men and women from the Kame Project in Seattle, in which participants were dementia-free at the onset of the study and were followed for up to nine years.

Borenstein and her colleagues found that participants who drank fruit or vegetable juices at least three times per week had a 75 percent reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared with those who drank these juices less than once per week. By comparison, there was no apparent dementia-related benefit from dietary or supplemental vitamin E, C or beta-carotene intake. “These findings suggest that something as simple as incorporating more fruit and vegetable juices into our diet may have a significant impact on our brain health,” commented Borenstein.

Exercise and moderate alcohol consumption may boost brain health

In a fourth study presented at the conference, researchers reported that simple lifestyle modifications – such as exercise and moderate alcohol consumption – may influence cognitive and memory abilities later in life.

Mark Sager, M.D., professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School, and colleagues studied nearly 500 adult children of persons with Alzheimer’s participating in the Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP). The goal of the longitudinal study was to characterize early cognitive and neurobiological changes in pre-clinical Alzheimer’s disease and identify health and lifestyle variables that influence the course of the disease. Participants, ages 40-65, underwent extensive neuropsychological testing, genotyping and health assessments as part of the study.

Baseline data analyses indicated that higher levels of homocysteine, an amino acid implicated in the development of dementia, were associated with lower verbal memory scores. Researchers also found that lifestyle variables such as exercise and moderate alcohol consumption were associated with better performance on several cognitive measures.

“These findings contribute to the growing body of evidence that health and lifestyle variables in middle age may be associated with the subsequent risk of developing Alzheimer’s in later life,” said Sager. “They also suggest that simple lifestyle modifications may influence the prevalence of Alzheimer’s in the future.” For more information, visit www.alz.org.

Sources: Jane Saczynski – The Effect of Social Engagement on Incident Dementia and Hippocampal Volume: the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study (funders: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)

Margaret Gatz – Potentially Modifiable Risk Factors for Dementia: Evidence from Identical Twins (funders: Alzheimer’s Association, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging)

Amy Borenstein – Consumption of Fruit and Vegetable Juices Predicts a Reduced Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease: The Kame Project (funder: National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging)

Mark Sager – Wisconsin Registry for Alzheimer’s Prevention (WRAP): Prospective Cohort Study of Pre-Clinical Alzheimer’s Disease (funders: Helen Bader Foundation, Extendicare Foundation, Northwestern Mutual Foundation) Antioxidants in wine, fruit and vegetable juices help prevent onset of alzeimers in children of sufferers

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