Can you counteract the natural mental aging process?
In aging societies, dementia is observed more often than before. Although people in their advanced years are more commonly afflicted, dementia can affect persons of any age. Therefore, researchers are focusing on healthy eating options to reduce the risk, or slow down the progression of the disease in those with a diagnosis. Medications such as cholinesterase inhibitors can diminish the development of dementia, but these medications only work to a certain extent. And although promising results are coming from the laboratory, new drugs still have a long way to go until sold in a pharmacy near you.
A healthy lifestyle - the sooner, the better
It is known that there are some things that you can do to prevent developing dementia later on in life. It is commonly said that:
- Mentally active people are less likely to suffer from dementia, probably because of so-called cognitive reserves, which act as a buffer, but can only delay the first episodes of the disease. 
- A healthy diet is beneficial. Particular care should be taken with salt, fat and sugar, while foods rich in omega 3 are recommended. 
- Physical exercise also keeps the brain healthy. Regular physical exercise has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, by encouraging circulation. 
- Getting enough sleep also helps. A study with mice showed sleep to aid the clearance of beta-amyloid.  Beta amyloid is a protein that builds up in the brain when a person is affected by dementia.
Training at any age
Although these findings are helpful, such lifestyle habits are thought to only be effective when practiced for many years prior to old age. But what happens when a person is already reaching their later years, and realises that their cognitive abilities are beginning to decline? This question was proposed by researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, the National Institute for Health and Welfare, and the University of Eastern Finland . The collaborative study examined subjects with memory problems, whose neuropsychological tests suggested increased risk of developing dementia.
Intensive physical and cognitive activation
In total, over 1,200 people aged 60-77 years were examined in the study. The participants were divided into two groups. The control group received three healthy-eating lectures over the course of the year. In contrast, the experimental group received strength and endurance training for the body in conjunction with intensive brain training. Specifically, the brain training focused on executive functioning, aiming to help the experimental group to set up goals and achieve them. In addition, this group was also given tips for a healthy diet.
After a year of the study, participants were again subjected to extensive testing. Compared with the control group, the general cognitive abilities of the experimental group increased by 25%. Closer examination revealed even better results, with executive functioning of the experimental group improving by 80%, and processing speed by as much as 150%.
No pain, No gain
The consequences are clear: a healthy lifestyle empowers the brain, but it is never too late to start training your brain. It is also clear that an intense workout is most effective. It helps now and again to skip the pork roast, walk to the supermarket and play Sudoko before bed. But both the mind and body must receive intensive training at the same time. As the saying goes - no pain, no gain. So start training today!Training starten
1: Valenzuela, M. (2008). Brain reserve and the prevention of dementia. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 21, 296-302.
2: Sinclair, AJ, Begg, D., Mathai, M., & Weisinger, RS (2007). Omega 3 fatty acids and the brain: review of studies in depression. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 16, 391-397.
3: Eriksson, PS, Perfilieva, E., Björk-Eriksson, T., Alborn, A.-M., Nordborg, C., Peterson, DA, & Gage, FH (1998). Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus. Nature Medicine, 4, 1313-1317.
4. Xie, L, Kang, H, Chen, MJ, Liao, Y, Thiyagarajan, M, O’Donnell, J, Christensen, D, Nicholson, C, Iliff, J, Takano, T, Deane, R, & Nedergaard, M (2013). Sleep drives metabolite clearance from the adult brain. Science, 342, 373-377.
5: Ngandu, T. et al. (2015). A 2 year multidomain intervention of diet, exercise, cognitive training, and vascular risk monitoring versus control to preventDefault cognitive decline in elderly people at risk (FINGER): a randomized controlled trial. The Lancet online.