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Wednesday February 18, 2009

Simplicity and memory

EATING less may help older people improve their memory and prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to a German study published recently.

The findings suggest that simple lifestyle changes could help treat dementia and confirm benefits previously shown in animals, said Agnes Floel, a neurologist at the University of Munster in Germany, who led the study.

“This is the first study that has shown that caloric restriction might be beneficial for memory function in elderly humans,” Floel said.

An estimated 24 million people worldwide have memory loss, problems with orientation and other symptoms that signal Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Researchers believe the number of people with dementia may quadruple by 2040, straining national health services and raising the need for new treatments.

Socially active people who are not easily stressed have a 50% lower risk of developing dementia.

Floel and her team divided 50 people with an average age of 60 into three groups. One group worked with a dietitian to cut their daily calories by about 30% while another had no eating restrictions.

The third group ate more food containing unsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil and fish, but this appeared to make no difference in boosting memory, Floel said.

But the men and women in the group told to eat less showed a 10% to 20% improvement in a memory test given three months after they began their diet, the researchers said.

“Our study may help to generate novel prevention strategies to maintain cognitive functions into old age,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team is now conducting a larger trial using brain imaging scans to better understand the mechanisms by which eating less may improve mental function, Floel said.

One possibility is that decreased levels of insulin and inflammation may boost brain cells and improve memory, she added in a telephone interview.

“We think that, similar to what has been found in animal studies, the changes of insulin levels and inflammation are good for neurons and bring about the improvement,” Floel said. – Reuters

Stay busy

KEEPING a full social calendar may help protect you from dementia, researchers said.

Socially active people who were not easily stressed had a 50% lower risk of developing dementia compared with men and women who were isolated and prone to distress, they reported in the journal Neurology.

“In the past, studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, possibly leading to dementia,” said Hui-Xin Wang of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who led the study.

“But our findings suggest that having a calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further.”

The Swedish study involved 506 elderly people who did not have dementia when first examined. The volunteers were given questionnaires about their personality traits and lifestyles and then tracked for six years.

Over that time, 144 people developed dementia with more socially active and less stressed men and women 50% less likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

“The good news is, lifestyle factors can be modified as opposed to genetic factors which cannot be controlled,” Wang said. “But these are early results, so how exactly mental attitude influences risk for dementia is not clear.” – Reuters

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