In our modern age where smartphones and apps are ubiquitous, so-called brain training games are all the rage. But people of a certain age will be much more familiar with the good old-fashioned crossword. Which is better for your brain when it comes to slowing cognitive decline? New research has provided some insights. According to the study, led by Davangere Devanand, MD, a professor and director of geriatric psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City, the humble crossword puzzle may actually be better for aging brains than new-fangled video games. “This is the first study to document both short-term and longer-term benefits for home-based crossword puzzles training compared to another intervention,” said Devanand. For the study, the researchers followed 107 adults aged 55 and over with mild cognitive impairment for 78 weeks. The participants were randomly given either crossword puzzles or brain-training games, and asked to do four 30-minute sessions weekly over three months. The participants were also asked to do a number of booster sessions up until the end of the study period. The researchers found that the people in the crossword group showed a small improvement in tests of memory and other mental skills. The results of the study are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. *Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
Eating ultra-processed foods could impair cognitive performance in older adults, new research suggests. According to the study published in the European Journal of Nutrition, older individuals who eat foods such as packaged snacks, breakfast cereals, choclates and pre-prepared pies, pizzas and pasta perform worse on standardized cognitive tests than their counterparts who do not consume such foods. The researchers from Australia that such food items contain little to no whole foods and typically include flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives. For the study, the researchers evaluated more than 2,700 participants who were 60 years old and above. The participants were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011 to 2014. Each participant was asked to recall what they ate in a 24-hour period on two non-consecutive days. The participants then underwent standardized, validated cognitive tests, including one that assesses Alzheimer’s disease. “Research indicates that diets that follow a Mediterranean Diet style, recognized by the high proportion of foods with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, are associated with a reduced risk of age-associated cognitive decline and dementia,” said Barbara Cardoso, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a senior lecturer in nutrition, dietetics, and food at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. *Image by Hannah Chen from Pixabay
A new study has shed more light on the potential health benefits of cranberries, specifically how they might help fight cognitive decline because of a particular group of plant compounds they contain known as flavanoids. In previous studies, flavanoids, which are found in vegetables, fruit, red wine, tea, and coffee, have been associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and lower dementia risk. Cranberries are actually rich in two types of flavonoids: anthocyanin and proanthocyanidins. Dr. David Vauzour, senior research fellow in molecular nutrition at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, wanted to investigate how cranberries impact the brain. To address the knowledge gap, Dr. Vauzour led a new study, the results of which are published in Frontiers in Nutrition. Interestingly, the stufy revealed a link between consuming the equivalent of a cup of cranberries a day and improved memory function. For the study, 60 pre-screened participants were separated into two groups and asked to undergo pre-intervention baseline tests to assess their cognitive levels. Participants were then asked to either take a sachet of freeze-dried cranberry powder or a placebo for a period of 12 weeks. Follow-up testing revealed that the group taking the cranberry powder not only demonstrated significant improvements in visual episodic memory performance, but also had increased flow in three areas of their brains. Dr. Vauzour says he would now like to see this study replicated with a larger sample size. *Image by Kristine Lejniece from Pixabay
Good news for pet lovers as a new study shows that having a long-term furry companion may delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline. According to the preliminary study by researchers at the University of Michigan, pet ownership was especially beneficial for working verbal memory, such as memorization of word lists. The new data is expected to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting in Seattle in April. In a press release, Dr. Tiffany Braley of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who authored the study, said: “Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits like decreasing blood pressure and stress.” However, she added, “our results suggest pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive decline.” Owning a pet for five or more years was linked to delayed ageing in the brain of adults around 65 years old. While owing a dog was found to be most beneficial, followed by owning a cat, people who cared for rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles can also reap benefits. The bottom line is the Michigan researchers found that cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners than non-pet owners over the six-year period. *Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay
A new long-term study has found that people who drink higher amounts of coffee may be less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. As part of the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of ageing, the study investigated whether coffee intake affected the rate of cognitive decline of more than 200 Australians over a decade. According to the research led by Edith Cowan University scientists, coffee intake may not only be a protective factor against Alzheimer's disease, but increased consumption of coffee could potentially reduce cognitive decline. Lead investigator Dr Samantha Gardener said the results showed an association between coffee and several important Alzheimer's disease-related markers. "We found participants with no memory impairments and with higher coffee consumption at the start of the study had lower risk of transitioning to mild cognitive impairment -- which often precedes Alzheimer's disease -- or developing Alzheimer's disease over the course of the study," she said. Higher coffee intake gave positive results in relation to certain domains of cognitive function, specifically executive function which includes planning, self-control and attention. Drinking more coffee also seemed to be linked to slowing the accumulation of the amyloid protein in the brain, a key factor in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Importantly, the researchers were not able to differentiate between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee consumption, nor determine differences based on coffee preparation method or additions such as milk or sugar. Image by Elias Shariff Falla Mardini from Pixabay
Alzheimer’s disease disproportionately affects more women than men. And while the exact reasons for this have always been unclear, it has been suggested that this is because women tend to live longer. In the UK alone, there are approximately 500,000 women with Alzheimer’s, compared to 350,000 men. But now new research presented at an international conference suggests that differences in brain connectivity and sex-specific genes could explain why women are at greater risk of Alzheimer’s than men. Presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Los Angeles, the two separate pieces of research – one from Vanderbilt University Medical Centre and the other from the University of Miami – could lead The Vanderbilt University Medical Centre study looked at proteins called tau and amyloid in the brain, which can cause brain cells to die. It found that women’s brains had better connectivity between the regions where tau protein builds up and this can lead to faster cognitive decline. The University of Miami study found that genetics could play a part, with genes found only in women presenting a specific dementia risk. Speaking about the University of Miami research, Dr Jana Voigt, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, said: “We don't yet know why certain genes are linked with Alzheimer's risk in one sex and not the other - but unravelling this could provide some answers as to why more women are living with dementia than men.”
Are you partial to a nice cup of tea? If you are, it could be a habit that serves you well in the future as scientists have discovered that drinking tea can potentially lower a person's risk of cognitive decline by as much as 50%. The study, the findings of which were published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, was led by Feng Lei from the Department of Psychological Medicine at National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. It involved 957 Chinese adults aged 55 and older, focussing on their tea consumption, including frequency, quantity and type. All of the study participants underwent standard assessments designed to gauge their cognitive function. The results showed that the individuals who drank tea regularly had a 50% lower risk of cognitive decline. Furthermore, adults with the APOE e4 gene - which is linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer's disease - and who also drank tea regularly, had an 86% lower risk of cognitive decline. In addition, the scientists say that the greatest cognitive benefits were witnessed with tea that was brewed from tea leaves, such as green tea, black tea and oolong tea. The source of the cognitive benefits is thought to lie in the bioactive compounds found in tea. "These compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential and other bioactive properties that may protect the brain from vascular damage and neurodegeneration," Lei explains. "Our understanding of the detailed biological mechanisms is still very limited so we do need more research to find out definitive answers." More studies are now planned to further investigate the link between tea and cognitive function.
People have long lauded the health benefits of eating walnuts, but now a new study has found that consuming them on a daily basis can help keep age-related health issues at bay. This week, at a health conference in San Diego, the initial findings of the two-year Walnuts and Healthy Aging (WAHA) study were presented. Involving some 707 healthy adults - who were split into two groups - the clinical trial saw one group eating walnuts for 15% of their daily calorific intake, while the other group ate none. After a year, both groups were found to have gained a similar amount of weight and have similar levels of triglycerides and HDL (otherwise known as 'good' cholesterol). However, the walnut-eating group experienced significant LDL (or 'bad') cholesterol reductions. Dr Emilio Ros, the director of the Lipid clinic, Endocrinology & Nutrition Service at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, which carried out the research in conjunction with Loma Linda University, said: "Acquiring the good fats and other nutrients from walnuts while keeping adiposity at bay and reducing blood cholesterol levels are important to overall nutritional well-being of ageing adults. "It’s encouraging to see that eating walnuts may benefit this particular population." The researchers now want to see whether walnuts have a positive impact on other age-related health issues, such as macular degeneration and cognitive decline.
A French study, which followed thousands of seniors over a period of 25 years, has found that hearing aids may slow mental decline in hard-of-hearing elderly individuals. Previous studies have shown a link between hearing loss and steeper cognitive decline in later years, but only now has that relationship been tracked over such a long period. Helene Amieva, lead author of the study, said: "With a large sample size and 25 years of follow-up of participants, this study clearly confirms that hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline in older adults. Using hearing aids attenuates cognitive decline in elders presenting with hearing loss." Amieva, who is a researcher at the University of Bordeaux here in France, said that around 30% of people over 65 years old experience some degree of hearing loss. That percentage rises significantly to almost 90% for people aged 85 and older. The individuals who participated in the study were recruited back in 1989-1990 and were observed while living at home, rather than institutional settings. Over the 25-year period, the participants answered 12 questionnaires in total, as well as undergoing psychological examinations to better assess their cognitive skills. Participants who had hearing loss were more likely to score lower on the mental health screenings and experience greater cognitive decline over the 25-year period. However, those who used hearing aids suffered from the same rate of cognitive decline as those with no hearing loss, according to the study. "These results underline the importance of addressing the problem of under-diagnosis and under-treatment of hearing loss in elderly adults," Amieva told Reuters Health.
Older people benefit from playing online games that test their memory and reasoning skills, also known as ‘brain training’, according to a large-scale study. The six month experiment, which was conducted by researchers at King’s College London, involved almost 7,000 individuals aged 50 and over and was launched by the BBC’s Bang Goes The Theory. None of the volunteers who participated in the study had reported any memory or cognition problems and they were recruited from the general population as part of a collaboration between the BBC, the Medical Research Council and the Alzheimer’s Society. The researchers found that mental exercises, such as those undertaken during brain training, helped with everyday skills like cooking and shopping. A baseline was taken by testing the study subjects on a series of medically recognised cognitive tests. The group was then split into two, with one subgroup asked to play online brain training games whenever they wanted for up to 10 minutes at a time. The medically recognised cognitive tests were then redone at three and six months to see if the group which had been playing the online games displayed any detectable differences over the other group. After six months, the group that had been playing the brain games showed broader cognitive skills than those who hadn’t. Dr Doug Brown from the Alzheimer's Society said: "Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do. “While this study wasn't long enough to test whether the brain training package can prevent cognitive decline or dementia, we're excited to see that it can have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks." Bigger, longer studies will now commence to dig deeper into this study’s findings.
A simple saliva test could predict a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study from a team in Canada. Led by Shraddha Sapkota, PhD, a neuroscience graduate at the University of Alberta, the team of researchers presented their findings at the 2015 Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC). Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in America and currently affects around 5.3 million in the US. By 2050, it is thought that 13.5 million Americans will suffer from the disease. At present, Alzheimer’s disease or a person’s risk of contracting it cannot be determined via a single test. A thorough medical evaluation is needed, which includes both physical and neurological tests. The University of Alberta researchers tested various saliva samples from 22 participants who had been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease; 25 who with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – an Alzheimer’s risk factor – and 35 whose cognitive functioning was normal. They found that certain compounds were more pronounced in the saliva of the patients who had Alzheimer’s and MCI. They verified their findings by conducting a subsequent study involving fewer participants. Talking about the findings of the study, Sapkota said: "Saliva is easily obtained, safe and affordable, and has promising potential for predicting and tracking cognitive decline, but we're in the very early stages of this work and much more research is needed. Equally important is the possibility of using saliva to find targets for treatment to address the metabolic component of Alzheimer's, which is still not well understood. This study brings us closer to solving that mystery." Photo credit: Healthy Women