How can older adults stay sharp as they age? A study by a collaboration of researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and the University of Eastern Finland finds that it is possible to slow cognitive decline in adults at-risk for dementia. The researchers tested an intensive two-year intervention targeted to older adults. The program resulted in improved cognitive functions and may lead to lower levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The randomized controlled trial was part of a study called the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER). All of the study’s 1,260 participants, adults aged 60 to 77 years, were at-risk for dementia. Half of the participants served as the control group and received regular health advice. The other half participated in the trial. The trial included:
- Regular meetings with physicians, nurses, and other health professionals.
- Advice on maintaining a healthy diet.
- Exercise programs for cardiovascular and strength training.
- Brain training exercises.
- Management of metabolic and vascular risk factors.
After two years, the researchers scored the participants’ mental functions using the Neuropsychological Test Battery (NBT). A higher score on the NBT indicated better mental function.
The adults who participated in the trial had better NBT scores, indicative of better cognitive function, than the control group. The trial participants scored 25 percent higher overall than the participants in the control group. In certain areas, the trial participants’ scores were even higher than those of the control group. After the trial, their executive function scores were 83 percent higher and their processing speed scores were 150 percent higher than the control group’s scores.
The study explains that the trial is among the first to prevent cognitive decline in older adults. “Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health, and fitness. However, our study is the first large randomised controlled trial to show that an intensive programme aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia.”
The researchers intend to continue the trial for another seven years to determine whether diminished cognitive decline leads to fewer diagnoses of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
This research is published in The Lancet.
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