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Reducing Dementia Risk

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In our book, How Do I Know You?: A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia, we say:

Alzheimer’s remains the only disease in the top ten causes of death in the United States that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed.

Stop the presses. New research suggests that there may be ways to slow the onset of the disease, if not prevent it.
Let me repeat that. Some early results from a cognitive training regimen show that it may be possible to delay or slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. It may even be preventive, but that will take a very long term waiting game to see if the delays that are evident in the clinical studies can be sustainable. The results from this research show that a computerized cognitive training program in which patients were enrolled was able to reduce the risk for onset of dementia by 29% at ten years! In scientific jargon, that’s not nothing!

Here is the other great part: those subjects who engaged in the most training got the most benefit. Does that sound like what we see in professional athletes …or professional anything? Those who put the most work into the program get the most out of it. Please let me tell you the rest of the story…Existing research has demonstrated that mental training that focused on retaining memory or processing did not reduce any risk for dementia. This present research was a study in Toronto among nearly 2,800 older adults whose average age was 73.6 years and who were living at home. They were assigned to three groups with three types of cognitive training:
• memory,
• reasoning and
• processing speed.

It was the processing speed groups which showed the results. Compared with a control group, those who went through this training had a 29% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The memory training and reasoning groups were not different from their respective control groups after 10 years. All of this held true even after the investigators adjusted for any differences in other conditions or characteristics like gender, diabetes, depression or cardio-vascular health.

Researchers are not sure why processing speed works this way, but it may be that working on processing speed builds up mental reserve. Maybe it’s like interval training for athletes. Mastering speed…bursts of work…grows their overall capacity. When the dementia erodes some of their cognitive capacity, they simply have more capacity on which they can draw. Clearly, a couple next steps will include following these people longer…but also trying to tap into what really is happening in the brains. That said, it stands to reason that if you can work on your “processing speed,” you will retain more ability over the long run. Get processing!

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.

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