Lifestyle Changes Prevent Dementia, Research Shows


Three recent studies show that improving lifestyle and dietary habits—such as engaging in moderate physical activity, drinking tea, and maintaining sufficient vitamin D levels—can reduce the risk of brain decline. The studies were presented July 11, 2010, at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The long-term Framingham Study followed more than 1200 elderly people for 20 years and found that 242 developed dementia. Participants who performed moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had about a 40% lower risk of developing any type of dementia. Individuals who reported the lowest levels of activity were 45% more likely to develop dementia, compared with those who reported higher levels of activity.

“This is the first study to follow a large group of individuals for this long a period of time,” said Zaldy Tan, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, New England’s Geriatric Research and Clinical Center, and Harvard Medical School. “It suggests that lowering the risk for dementia may be one additional benefit of maintaining at least moderate physical activity.”

In a second study, 4800 men and women aged 65 and older were followed for up to 14 years. The results of the research showed that people who consumed tea (at different levels) had considerably less cognitive decline than these who did not. Coffee consumption did not show any effect.

Another recent European investigation showed that individuals who were vitamin D deficient were 42% more likely to be cognitively impaired. Cognitive impairment was 394% more likely in people who were severely deficient.

“Given that both vitamin D deficiency and dementia are common throughout the world, this is a major public health concern,” said the study’s lead author David Llewellyn, PhD of the University of Exeter Peninsula Medical School (UK).

In the past, underfunding for the Alzheimer’s Association has prevented more extensive research on the disease. These collective studies suggest that simple lifestyle changes can be the keys to lowering an individual’s possibility of becoming cognitively impaired. Pharmacists should consult with patients at risk to help them understand how to incorporate these changes into their daily routine.

For more information on the benefits of Vitamin D, pharmacists should refer to the recently published Pharmacy Times article, “The Important Role of Vitamin D,” which provides information risk factors for vitamin D deficiency, as well as dosing guidelines for specific patient populations.

An overview of counseling points for Alzheimer’s disease is also available in “Understanding Alzheimer’s,” a patient education feature published in the March issue of Pharmacy Times.

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