About 32% of Americans older than 85 have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This debilitating condition gradually affects memory, thinking, behavior and executive functions leaving the afflicted unable to perform daily tasks and gradually unaware of the world around them. Often, people with Alzheimer’s disease are also diagnosed with other types of dementia such as that caused by vascular disease. Worldwide, it is estimated that about 50 million people have some form of dementia. As the world’s population ages, without a cure, it is estimated that by 2050 more than 130 million people worldwide may suffer from dementia with 60 – 70% having Alzheimer’s and another 20 – 25% having a vascular form of the disease.
Because so many people worldwide are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, many drugs have been developed in the hopes of treating and ultimately curing the disease. But, over 200 experimental drugs intended to treat or cure the disease have failed in the last 30 years. Another 100 drugs are currently in clinical trials, so far without strong success.
In the April 2017 edition of Scientific American, Miia Kivipelto and Krister Håkansson discuss the results of a study they (Kivipelto) led titled the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER). The results of this study were the first to be published in a larger group of lifestyle change studies.
In the FINGER study, 631 men and women in the treatment group aged 60 – 77 and 629 in the control group participated. Further, the pool of subjects was chosen to consist of individuals who, according to scores on a test for dementia risk, were determined to be at an elevated risk for cognitive decline. Those in the control group received health advice and had their cardiovascular health checked regularly. If health problems such as high blood pressure were identified, these control group members were referred to a physician. The regimen for those in the treatment group consisted of four parts:
- Nutritional guidance – aimed at a healthy balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, dietary fibers and salt, restrictions on consumption of trans-fatty acids, refined sugar and alcohol (all in accordance with recommendations by the Finnish National Nutrition Council).
- Cognitive training – used a computer program to train on different cognitive tasks to enhance executive function (particularly planning and organizing), memory improvement and mental speed. This training consisted of two – three sessions per week in intervals of 10 – 15 minute sessions.
- Physical exercise – included muscle-strength training, aerobic exercise and postural balance eventually ramping up to two or three gym sessions of 60 minutes a week.
- More intensely monitored cardiovascular status – included regular checkups on metabolic and vascular health, measures of weight, blood pressure and hip and waist circumference averaging every four months and meetings at roughly the same intervals with physicians to discuss these results and using the results as a basis, encouraged the participants to change their daily health habits.
(Photo from Scientific American)
See the results below!