Posts Tagged ‘Dementia’

Constant Distraction May Cause Memory Loss

October 18th, 2016 at 5:39 pm by timigustafson

You don’t have to be a senior to experience a “senior moment,” meaning you forget an otherwise familiar word or name, or can’t exactly remember what you planned to do the next minute. It happens throughout life, it just seems to happen more frequently with age.

But it’s not always due to mental decline in our later years that we lose track of things. Much of what we ascribe to forgetfulness may actually be a matter of loss of focus, concentration and attention span that begins much earlier.

In our busy lives, distractions are ubiquitous and nearly impossible to avoid. Most of us are in fact used to juggling several chores at once – a.k.a. multitasking – day in and day out. It has become so much part of us that it almost feels strange to dwell on just one subject matter for too long.

Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for all this. Studies have shown that the brain actually suffers from being pulled in too many different directions.

For example, researchers from Stanford University found that talking on the phone or sending text messages while doing other things or having other interactions at the same time can cause what they coined “impairment of cognitive control”.

We admire people who act with great efficiency, and it can be a real asset to be able to function this way. But participants in tests showed that when they were regularly bombarded with multiple streams of information and demands, they paid less attention, could often not remember important details, and switched from one job to the next with less ease, compared to others who completed only one project at the time.

Moreover, the multitaskers had a harder time figuring out which information was relevant and which wasn’t to a specific project. People who get inundated with data and messages can become “suckers for irrelevancy,” as one study author put it.

Especially an intense (some say, addictive) use of media may impact the brain in ways we are not yet fully comprehending. Clinical studies have already detected changes in the minds of adolescents and young adults who spend a lot of their time on social media. Since the technology that drives such behavior is relatively new, long-term outcomes are still unclear.

However, experts do agree that a constant exposure to media and communication in the so-called digital age does indeed shorten the attention span most people can muster.

While more research is needed to establish direct connections, the effects of distraction and lack of focus do seem real, and may become more pronounced as people grow older.

As it gets harder to digest information or commit data to memory, it becomes ever more important to remain mentally engaged. It may take longer to learn new skills, or even just read through a newspaper article or an entire book, but it’s definitely worth the effort, and the benefits are myriad.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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Stress in Midlife May Increase Risk of Dementia, Study Suggests

October 9th, 2013 at 3:28 pm by timigustafson

People who undergo traumatic experiences or endure stressful situations during their midlife years may be more likely to suffer from cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss as they age compared to their counterparts who manage to sail through life more smoothly, according to a study from Sweden that followed participants over decades, keeping track of their mental health.

The study only included women, but the researchers say there is no reason to assume their observations wouldn’t be applicable to men as well, although, as other studies have shown, the sexes respond to stress differently in a number of ways.

What is remarkable about the findings of this study is that stress-producing events, even if they had taken place long in the past, continued to have a negative impact on people’s mental well-being. Whether they could pinpoint the source to certain incidents like a divorce or the loss of loved ones, or whether they were exposed to high stress levels for extended periods of time, a.k.a. chronic stress, the potential for lasting health damages increased significantly as they grew older.

There also seems to be an accumulative effect: For each additional stressor the participating women reported at the beginning of the study, their risk of later developing Alzheimers’s disease was raised by up to 20 percent.

The researchers do not claim having found a cause and effect connection between stress and age-related mental decline, though.

“Stress and stressors are just one of several risk factors. Not everyone who had stress or stressors developed dementia,” said Dr. Lena Johansson of the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology at Gothenburg University in Mölndal, Sweden, one of the authors of the study report.

However, what the study does show, she said, is that common stressors most of us encounter every day can have severe long-lasting physiological and psychological consequences.

One possible explanation for this is that stress hormones like cortisol may cause harmful alterations in the brain. They can also affect blood pressure and blood sugar control. It is well known that high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, which is also suspected to play a role in mental decline. Even if all the connections are not yet fully understood, a larger picture seems to emerge that allows for a better identification of all the components.

For now, however, our best options are to take as many preventive measures as we can, such as eating healthy and exercising plenty. Getting enough sleep and managing stress are equally as important.

While there is no real protection against Alzheimer’s and memory loss available today, and perhaps never will be, we all can take steps to remain mentally active and alert. Lifelong learning and problem solving are most beneficial in this regard. Maintaining an active social life is also important.

As far as stress is concerned, most of us can never escape that for good. Modern life is just that way. That means we must find solutions to deal with the inevitable and counterbalance the impact of stress as best as we can. There is no shortage on advice on how to go about this, including on this blog. What matters in the end is how successful we are in controlling our responses to the obstacles that are thrown in our way, not just for the moment but for the rest of our lives.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Staying Physically Healthy and Mentally Engaged Protects Best Against Dementia, New Studies Finds.”

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

 

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Lifestyle-Related Ills Tend to Multiply with Age, Study Finds

April 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am by timigustafson

Seniors who suffer from chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease often develop a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cognitive impairment like memory loss and dementia, according to a new study based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of hundreds of thousands of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities and found that most had at least one chronic health condition. What was more alarming, however, was that many had overlapping ailments. While high blood pressure and heart disease were most common, nearly half of the assisted-living residents showed signs of dementia.

“These findings suggest a vulnerable population with a high burden of functional and cognitive impairment,” the authors of the study report wrote.

Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Therefore it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems, he added.

But that may be easier said than done. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cythia M. Boyd, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to the New York Times. “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”

What makes things more complicated is that most doctors are not sufficiently trained in preventing or reducing lifestyle-related illnesses – not in the general public and certainly not in older patients – other than through medicating. For instance, the importance of nutrition as a part of preventive care is rarely ever mentioned in medical schools. The approximate time devoted to nutrition science over the first two years of medical education is six hours, which is clearly inadequate, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The same goes for other health-promoting measures such as exercise, especially for the aging population.

Yet many studies have provided compelling evidence that diet and exercise play a significant role for physical and mental health at any time in life but increasingly so as we age.

For example, a more recent study from Britain concluded that the so-called “Western diet,” which typically includes fried, sweet and processed foods, red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, increases the risk of chronic diseases, which in turn can adversely affect both physical and mental health in later years. Eating a Western diet makes it less likely to have an ideal aging process, says Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly, a researcher at the University College of London and lead author of the study report. Conversely, making dietary improvements can yield multiple benefits in this regard.

There is also further evidence that exercise can give a boost to the aging brain. Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that older women who suffered from mild cognitive impairment could improve their memory through weight training and brisk walking.

The connections between physical and mental decline may not yet be completely understood, but it seems clear that chronic diseases play a major role in the process. While these are widespread, the encouraging news is that many, if not all, are preventable by healthier lifestyle choices.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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One of the most feared health problems the aging Baby Boomer generation will face is dementia. And it won’t just affect those suffering from mental decline but also those who care for them and society at large, at least in financial terms.

A new study predicts that healthcare costs in connection with age-related dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, will soon surpass almost all other medical expenses, including for heart disease and cancer, two of today’s leading causes of death.

The study, which was conducted by economists at the RAND Corporation and sponsored by the federal government, found that expenditures for dementia patients will at least double by 2040.

3.8 million Americans age 71 and older are now diagnosed with some form of age-related cognitive decline. In another generation, the researchers say, there will be over 9 million.

Direct healthcare costs, including nursing home care, per dementia patient run currently between $41,000 and $56,000 a year. Total expenses in the United States in 2010, the year the study collected its data, ranged from $159 billion to 215 billion. It is projected that these numbers will increase to well over $500 billion annually by mid-century.

Not included in these calculations are the costs of what is considered “informal care,” which is usually provided by family members and voluntary caregivers. It is hard to put a price tag on their efforts, but the study estimates a total of $50 billion to $106 billion spent per year.

“The long-term care costs associated with people with dementia are particularly high because of the nature of the disease,” said Donald Moulds, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in an interview with the New York Times. “People eventually become incapable of caring for themselves, and then in the vast majority of cases, their loved ones become incapable of caring for them.”

So far, there is no cure or effective treatment for dementia. However, there are numerous studies suggesting that certain preventive measures may be helpful, at least in terms of delaying or slowing the debilitating effects.

For instance, certain health and lifestyle factors associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s disease can be controlled, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists are exploring whether prevention strategies like physical exercise, diet and intellectual stimulation can counteract deterioration. Controlling body weight and blood pressure are among the most common recommendations experts give in this regard. Also, keeping the brain engaged by constant learning and participating in a lively social environment are thought to be helpful.

Unfortunately, most of this is guesswork. The truth is that we don’t know why dementia is so dramatically on the rise. Is the reason that we live longer, that we eat the wrong foods, that we exercise too little, that we watch too much TV, that we find ourselves increasingly isolated as we grow older – all of the above and more? We don’t know.

Still, we cannot sit idly and ignore the facts. In any case, adherence to a healthy lifestyle will do no harm. We may not find out the specific causes, if there are any, and there may not be an effective treatment available for the foreseeable future.

But in the meantime, we can and should do everything in our power to stay as healthy and active as possible for as long as we can. A good way of going about that is to satisfy all our health needs in every aspect by eating right, exercising regularly, reducing stress, getting enough sleep, nursing relationships, reading books, learning foreign languages and computer programs and so forth. Not one but all of these together make for what I have called the “pillars of our wellbeing.” Until there are better options, that’s all we can do, and that’s not nothing.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest

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Exercising the brain as much as exercising the body to keep both fit and healthy has become the new mantra for the aging baby boomer generation. Scientists seem to agree. Studies show that people who were cognitively active throughout their lives are less likely to experience mental decline as they grow older.

Age-related dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease is the most feared health condition among older Americans today, second only to cancer. It is also one of the most significant health threats of the 21st century, according to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association and the Harvard School of Public Health that was first published at an international conference on the subject in Paris, France, last year.

The causes for Alzheimer’s are not yet fully understood and there are currently no effective treatments that can halt or reverse the progressively debilitating disease. Researchers have suggested that diet and exercise as well as mental stimulation may serve as preventive measures, but there is not enough scientific evidence that these have a significant impact.

There are a number of health conditions, however, believed to promote the development of dementia. One is inflammation of the brain caused by stress hormones such as cortisol, which is toxic to nerve cells in the brain and especially to those responsible for memory. Another contributing factor is cardiovascular disease because it can prevent the brain from receiving sufficient blood supply, thereby damaging it.

A more controversial suggestion is that education, or lack thereof, can make a difference in the likelihood of someone becoming demented later in life. Obviously, the notion that the well-educated have a better shot at staying mentally healthy while the unschooled run the risk of losing their minds is hard to accept because it sounds elitist and snobbish. That makes it difficult to raise the issue without provoking strong reactions. Still, we have to look at the evidence.

Neuroscientists say that the reason why education can help prevent or at least slow down an aging person’s cognitive decline is that during learning processes structural changes in the brain’s neural network take place as neurons connect with one another. This is only possible because the central nervous system is in constant dynamic flux, which enables it to respond and adapt to changing requirements.

The more learning experiences we undergo over the years, the more neural connections we develop in the brain. This does not only happen when we learn something brand new – like a foreign language or a computer program – but even when we do routine work or play our favorite games. The already established neural connections just multiply as we repeat similar mental processes. That is why most tasks become easier to master over time, which is what learning is. This process is called “neural redundancy,” meaning that many neural connections become redundant through repetition – but not obsolete because when some connections get damaged or degenerate, others take over and continue to function in their place. In other words, the more “redundant” connections we develop over a lifetime through constant learning, the less likely we will lose our skills and abilities as we age.

So the question arises whether we can avoid the decline of our mental capacities by, let’s say, learning Mandarin, reading philosophical books or mastering programming software? Not if you start late, scientists say. Being mentally active from early on and throughout life, not just when you reach old age, is what makes the difference, according to Dr. William Jagust, a professor of public health and neuroscience at the University of California at Berkeley. What you do at 40 or 50 is more important than what you take on at 75.

“Older people seem to have less efficient brains [than younger people] and have to work their brains harder,” said Dr. Jagust in an interview on the subject with the New York Times (3/8/2012). “People who stay cognitively active may be able to use their brains more efficiently,” he added.

Does it then still make sense to strive for mental fitness when you are already approaching retirement age or even later? Within limits, yes, Dr. Jagust agrees. Memory usually diminishes with age, even with people who do not have dementia, he said. It’s more about preserving the abilities you have than acquiring new ones, although both go hand in hand.

For those looking for learning opportunities in their later years, there is no shortage of programs offered by universities and colleges throughout the country. And these are not the only options. Educational travel programs are becoming extremely popular among retirees and the travel industry is more than happy to accommodate them.

They say, a good education is wasted on the young – well, it’s certainly not wasted on those who see lifelong learning as yet another fountain of youth. It may not be able to prevent mental decline in the end, but, in the meantime, it clearly does no harm.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Obesity and Diabetes – The Plague of Our Time

February 28th, 2012 at 6:00 pm by timigustafson

When Michelle Obama announced “Let’s Move,” her signature initiative to combat childhood obesity, she emphasized that major diet and lifestyle changes were not required in her view to turn this growing health crisis around. “Small changes add up,” she said. “We don’t need to totally evaporate our way of being as we know it today.” In other words, if we just cut a few calories here and there and exercise a bit more, things will be fine before long. A comforting thought.

But that may be wishful thinking, according to Mark Hyman, MD, chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and medical director of the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, and author of several bestselling health books, including his latest, titled “The Blood Sugar Solution.” The way he sees it, we are in the middle of an explosive epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes that will touch almost everyone in one way or another. He does not hesitate to call it “the modern plague.”

Obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer are ultimately all rooted in one and the same problem: Our dismal diet- and lifestyle choices. Diagnosing and treating these diseases separately as if they were not interconnected misses the whole picture. Instead, Dr. Hyman proposes using a more comprehensive term to describe the continuum of which all these health problems are part of: “Diabesity.”

Diabesity can range from slight weight problems and mild insulin resistance to morbid obesity and severe diabetes. Because the disease is not well understood as a continuum, millions of those affected by it remain undiagnosed and untreated. As a consequence, more people all over the world die now from chronic illnesses than from infectious diseases. The real tragedy is that the causes are almost always environmental and lifestyle-related, which would make them perfectly preventable or curable through public education and enough political will to implement the necessary changes.

“This is a lifestyle and environmental disease and won’t be cured by medications,” Dr. Hyman writes. “Billions and billions have been wasted trying to find the ‘drug cure,’ while the solution lies right under our nose. Shouldn’t the main question we ask be why is this happening? Instead of what new drug can we find to treat it?

Since most of our modern-day ailments are primarily caused by poor diet choices, chronic stress and sedentary lifestyles, as well as toxins and allergens in the environment, we must address these problems from the ground up (literally). Instead of looking for quick fixes through medication and surgical procedures, we can make many important corrections by ourselves and without delay by using the right ingredients that make us healthy again, including whole, fresh food, vitamins and minerals, water, fresh air, exercise, stress reduction, etc. “When we take out the bad stuff and put in the good stuff, the body knows what to do and creates health and disease goes away,” writes Dr. Hyman. Care for the environment is part of that, too. Here, he strongly agrees with Sir Albert Howard, who is by many considered the founder of the organic agriculture movement, when he wrote in his landmark book, “The Soil and Health,” that we must “treat the whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal and man as one great subject.”

Finding our way back to wholesome nutrition is one of the greatest challenges we face today. “In America, we eat more than we ever have, yet we are nutritionally depleted,” writes Dr. Hyman. The epidemic of diabesity and other chronic illnesses is paralleled by an epidemic of nutritional deficiencies. Most of us don’t eat enough the kind of food that protects us from diseases and too much of the kind that makes us sick.

“Food literally speaks to our genes,” he writes in a chapter titled “Nutrigenomics.” “The information your body receives from the foods you eat turns your genes on and off.” Whole-foods and plant-based diets have been shown in clinical studies to be able to turn off cancer-causing genes or turn on cancer-protective genes. No medication can do this. “What you put on your fork is the most powerful medicine you can take to correct the root causes of chronic disease and diabesity,” he writes.

“The Blood Sugar Solution” is a highly informative but, thankfully, also a very accessible book for both professionals and the laypersons. Some readers may find Dr. Hyman’s positions to be somewhat radical, if not utopian, especially where he seeks to offer hands-on solutions. Admittedly, he writes with passion and a sense of urgency – and rightly so. The obesity crisis keeps growing unabatedly worldwide and the time for “small steps” may have passed. Something has to change on a fundamental level. Unfortunately, that makes it so much less likely that we will see significant successes in the near future, if ever.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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A Renewed Effort to Fight Alzheimer’s Disease

February 25th, 2012 at 5:12 pm by timigustafson

The Obama administration has tasked the science community with finding some effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. Experts consider the quest as ambitious. Still, health advocates applaud the government’s initiative, calling it an important step towards prevention, delay and, eventually, cure of the disorder.

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most feared health conditions among Baby Boomers, second only to cancer, according to a survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association and the Harvard School of Public Health, which was first published at an international conference in Paris, France, last year. However, because of stigma and misinformation about Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, too many cases still remain undiagnosed. As a first step, the government has announced a major campaign to better educate both the medical community and the public at large about the disease.

“Alzheimer’s is the most significant social and health crisis of the 21st century,” said Dr. William Thies, the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “The overwhelming numbers of people whose lives will be altered by the disease, combined with the staggering economic burden on families and nations, make Alzheimer’s the defining disease of this generation. However, if governments act urgently to develop national research and care strategies with appropriate smart investments, the impact of Alzheimer’s and dementia can be managed,” he added.

Currently, over five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementias, a toll that is expected to triple by 2050. The numbers may be much higher yet because as many as half of those affected have not been formally diagnosed. According to the American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF), almost half a million new cases are added annually. Over 80,000 patients die from the disease every year, making Alzheimer’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.

The annual costs for treatments and care of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. amounted approximately to $183 billion in 2011; they are expected to reach over one trillion dollars by 2050. The vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s receive home care by relatives, which is not covered by Medicare and most health insurance plans. For this reason, the new government initiative also aims at providing some form of relief for overwhelmed families who carry the burden of caring for loved ones, although the details hereto are still unclear.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia. The disease worsens as it progresses and leads to death within four to seven years on average, although 20 years are not unheard of. It was first described in 1906 by the German psychiatrist and neuropathologist, Alois Alzheimer, and was named after him.

Early symptoms are often overlooked or misinterpreted as age- or stress-related phenomena such as forgetfulness or confusion. Since the disease affects each individual differently, predicting its course is difficult.

What causes Alzheimer’s in the first place is not yet fully understood. Currently available treatments can only help with its symptomatic effects but are not able to halt or reverse progression. Some have suggested that diet, exercise and mental stimulation can have a positive impact, however, there is no clinically proven evidence that such measures have a real effect in terms of prevention.

Still, most experts agree that healthy diet and lifestyle choices are the best weapons we currently have against all age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “The Right Food for Your Brain” and “Reducing Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Signs of Memory Loss Found in Younger People

January 8th, 2012 at 3:25 pm by timigustafson

Loss of memory and other cognitive functions may start much earlier in life than previously thought, according to a clinical study from England. A modest decline of mental abilities such as reasoning and problem-solving was found in participants who were only in their forties.

For the study, researchers tested 7,000 men and women over a period of 10 years for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension. The results showed an average of 3.6 percent decline in reasoning skills in both sexes at the age of 45 to 49. 65 to 70 years old men showed on average a steeper decline than women of the same age group – 9.6 versus 7.4 percent.

Since the youngest participants were 45 years old when the study began, it is possible that the deterioration of brain functions may commence even earlier, according to Dr. Archana Singh-Manoux, the leader of the research, which was co-sponsored by the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population in France and the University College London. The results were recently published in the “British Medical Journal.”

Previous studies on age-related decline of mental health have primarily focused on people in their sixties, seventies and beyond. By limiting ourselves to a narrower scope, we may not yet have gotten the entire picture, according to Dr. Singh-Manoux. A decline of mental capacity doesn’t suddenly happen at old age. That variability exists much earlier on, she says.

Researchers still need to learn more about the risk factors that lead to progressive cognitive impairment. There is strong evidence that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia is closely related to heart disease, which is typically caused by weight problems, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

We probably underestimate how affected the broader population may be, says Dr. Singh-Manoux. The participants in this study were drawn from a relative homogeneous pool of office workers who were well educated and, for the most part, enjoyed a comfortable life and good health. This is not necessarily a representative profile at a time when so many suffer from obesity and other lifestyle-related health issues.

Although the causes of mental decline are not yet fully understood, experts recommend a number of measures that may not prevent but at least slow down the process. These include regular physical exercise, healthy nutrition, weight control, intellectual activity, avoidance of smoking and alcohol/drug abuse, stress reduction, sufficient amounts of sleep as well as social activities and supportive relationships.

A study conducted by the Mayo Clinic concluded that engaging in stimulating mental activities through reading, discussion, playing challenging games and other interactions can help decrease the risk of cognitive impairment significantly. This does not only apply to the elderly. To prevent even mild cognitive impairment (MCI), it is important to “exercise” the brain at any age.

“This study… demonstrates that aging does not need to be a passive process,” says Dr. Yonas Geda, a Mayo Clinic neuropsychiatrist and lead author of the study report. “By simply engaging in cognitive exercise, you can protect against future memory loss.”

To what degree we actually hold the key to our mental health remains to be seen. Preserving our physical health as best as we can is certainly a good strategy. Baby boomers have long been spending millions to save their sagging skin, fix their crow’s feet and plump their lips. As they reach old age, they finally are beginning to turn to brain boosters to fight memory loss, writes Virginia Anderson of WebMD in an article titled “Seven Brain Boosters to Prevent Memory Loss.” In fact, the process may begin much earlier in life and people need to pay attention before it’s too late.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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New Study Confirms: Diabetes Increases the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

September 25th, 2011 at 4:48 pm by timigustafson

A new study has confirmed a long-held suspicion that people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The latest findings are based on research in Japan that followed over 1,000 men and women, age 60 and older. 27 percent of the participants who were diabetic at the outset of the study eventually developed dementia, compared to 20 percent of those with normal blood sugar levels.

“We have clearly demonstrated that diabetes is a significant risk factor for the development of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Yutaka Kiyohara, professor at the Kyushu University in Fukuoka in Japan and lead author of the study report.

The researchers began studying residents of the town of Hisayama in the early 1960s. The original focus was on cardiovascular disease. In the mid-1980s, they started to observe the development of dementia. Each participant was monitored for an average time period of 11 years. The results were recently published in the journal, “Neurology.”

“Diabetes is a common disorder, and the number of people with [the disease] has been growing in recent years all over the world. Controlling diabetes is now more important than ever,” said Dr. Kiyohara.

Indeed, diabetes is dramatically on the rise worldwide. 230 million now suffer from the disease, up from 30 million 20 years ago. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), almost 26 million adults and children have been diagnosed in the United States alone. Another 80 million are considered pre-diabetic, meaning their blood sugar levels are routinely elevated, which can turn into a chronic condition over time if no countermeasures are taken.

The link between diabetes and dementia is not yet fully understood. Diabetes may lead to a particular type of dementia, called “vascular dementia,” in which damage to the blood vessels in the brain inhibits the flow of oxygen. There is also the possibility that the brain’s response to high levels of insulin in the body increases the risk of developing dementia. “There is some evidence that the brain is very sensitive to fuels like sugar and hormones like insulin,” said Dr. Joel Zonszein, professor of clinical medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “How exactly it happens is really speculation, we really don’t know,” he added.

To be sure, not everyone with diabetes develops dementia and not everyone who has dementia is diabetic. But still, studies have shown time and again that those with Type-2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop a type of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Type-2 diabetes patients often develop insulin resistance, a condition in which their cells can’t properly use insulin to absorb glucose in the bloodstream. To compensate, the pancreas releases additional insulin. The resulting higher insulin levels in the blood can lead to inflammation, which may cause, among other effects, damage to the brain cells. In addition, abnormalities in glucose metabolism and insulin levels in the brain itself may be harmful. Some researchers have therefore suggested that Alzheimer’s disease may actually be “Type-3 diabetes.” Obviously, more studies are needed to prove the existence of these connections.

Currently available measures to prevent or control diabetes may or may not lower the risk of dementia. Some diabetes drugs have been tested for the effectiveness in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. So far, none of these tests have shown more than modest improvement with regards to the symptoms of the disease. They have not stopped progression, which, of course, would be the ultimate goal.

Based on what we know today, preventing or managing diabetes is the best strategy to avoid further complications, one of which may be dementia. This will also reduce the risk of other potentially debilitating effects, including heart- and kidney disease and damage to the optical nerves and nerve endings in the extremities.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” ( http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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