If poor sleep is contributing to dementia, then sleeping pills may be beneficial.
Half of all people with mild cognitive impairment do recover.
Risk of developing dementia is one-third lower.
Memory often worsens with age — it is a normal part of the aging process.
But, when do mild memory problems signal the onset of Alzheimer’s?
Ironically, people who realise their memory is getting worse are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, research finds.
Self-awareness, then, is a healthy sign.
Doctors have long suspected that people who seem unaware of their memory problems are at higher risk of dementia, but this is one of the first studies to demonstrate it.
Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, looked at data from 450 patients experiencing mild memory deficits.
The patients’ experience of their own memory was compared with the objective views of friends and family.
Patients unaware of their memory problems turned out to be in worse shape neurologically: they had metabolic dysfunction in their brains and more amyloid proteins (these are linked to Alzheimer’s).
Two years later, patients who were more unaware of their memory problems were at triple the risk of developing dementia.
Dr Serge Gauthier, study co-author, said:
“This has practical applications for clinicians: people with mild memory complaints should have an assessment that takes into account information gathered from reliable informants, such as family members or close friends.”
The study was published in the journal Neurology (Therriault et al., 2018).
With age it is natural for the brain’s plasticity to reduce and there is also a loss of gray matter as it shrinks in size — but the process can be slowed.
High blood pressure is thought to affect almost one-in-three people around the world, with a further third at risk.
A steady decline? Experts question whether the human brain really slows down with age.
Linguistic experts argue that people’s brains do not slow down with age, but actually show the benefits of experience.
Tests that had previously been taken to show cognitive decline as people age, they maintain, are actually showing the effects of having more information to process.
While accepting that physiological diseases of old age clearly exist, they say that the usual cognitive changes associated with age are exactly what you’d expect as the brain gathers more experience.
As linguists, they decided to test their theory using words–specifically the number of words that a person learns across their lifetime.
They set up a computer simulation to model this.
As the simulation got ‘older’, it began to slow down as it learnt more words–exactly as people do with ageing.
The lead author of the study, Dr Michael Ramscar, explained it like this:
“Imagine someone who knows two people’s birthdays and can recall them almost perfectly.
Would you really want to say that person has a better memory than a person who knows the birthdays of 2000 people, but can ‘only’ match the right person to the right birthday nine times out of ten?”
It’s not that people are forgetting words with age, it’s that there are more words competing for attention.
People face a similar problem with names: as they age, they learn more names, so one name is harder to recall because it is competing with a larger pool of alternate names in memory.
On top of this, names have become varied.
The authors give the example that in the 1880s, when trying to recall a woman’s first-name, there were about 100 equally possible alternatives.
Due to the greater variety in first-names now, however, you’d be trying to choose between 2,000 likely alternatives.
Age and experience
Even better news for the ageing population, the linguists argue, is that older people are actually making better use of the extra information that comes with experience.
On some tests, related to learning pairs of works, older people do better as they have access to more words which have been learnt over a lifetime.
What, you might wonder, about all the neurobiological evidence that the brain’s cognitive powers decline with age?
Well, excepting real diseases like Alzheimer’s, scientists have only discovered that the brain changes with age, not that these changes are the cause of any cognitive decline.
It has only been assumed that neurobiological changes in the brain are related to cognitive declines, since these two were thought to be happening simultaneously.
Now that there are questions over whether cognitive declines are really there, these neurobiological changes may have to be reassessed.
Is cognitive decline a myth?
If cognitive decline with age really is a myth then, the authors worry, simply being told that your brain slows down with age is damaging.
That’s because when people are told they are getting more stupid, they behave as though this were true.
The authors conclude by saying:
“…population aging is seen as a problem because of the fear that older adults will be a burden on society; what is more likely is that the myth of cognitive decline is leading to an absurd waste of human potential and human capital.
It thus seems likely that an informed understanding of the cognitive costs and benefits of aging will benefit all society, not just its older members.”
The study was published in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science (Ramscar et al., 2014).
Pulsating arteries wash away harmful waste products that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases at night.
The number of people diagnosed with dementia is expected to almost triple over the next three decades.
Magnesium-rich foods like nuts and spinach may help reduce the risk of dementia, research finds.
People with higher intakes of magnesium had lower levels of brain shrinkage and aging.
The study included over 6,000 people in the UK who completed a survey of their food intake over 16 months.
Those who ate more magnesium-rich foods — including seeds and wholegrains, leafy green vegetables and legumes — had a younger brain age, the researchers found.
Ms Khawlah Alateeq, the study’s first author, said:
“Our study shows a 41 percent increase in magnesium intake could lead to less age-related brain shrinkage, which is associated with better cognitive function and lower risk or delayed onset of dementia in later life.
This research highlights the potential benefits of a diet high in magnesium and the role it plays in promoting good brain health.”
Increasing magnesium intake from an average of 350 milligrams per day to 550 milligrams was linked to a reduction in brain age of one year at age 55.
Foods that are magnesium-rich include:
- chia seeds
- black beans
- brown rice
Dr Erin Walsh, study co-author, said:
“Since there is no cure for dementia and the development of pharmacological treatments have been unsuccessful for the past 30 years, it’s been suggested that greater attention should be directed towards prevention.
Our research could inform the development of public health interventions aimed at promoting healthy brain aging through dietary strategies.”
The number of people diagnosed with dementia is expected to almost triple over the next three decades — partly due to an aging population, as well as unhealthy lifestyles.
Ms Alateeq said:
“The study shows higher dietary magnesium intake may contribute to neuroprotection earlier in the aging process and preventative effects may begin in our 40s or even earlier.
This means people of all ages should be paying closer attention to their magnesium intake.
We also found the neuroprotective effects of more dietary magnesium appears to benefit women more than men and more so in post-menopausal than pre-menopausal women, although this may be due to the anti-inflammatory effect of magnesium.”
Note that the study did not test the effects of magnesium supplements, rather it examined how much magnesium people were getting from the foods they were already eating.
Getting the right micronutrients from natural foods is usually better than supplementation.
- The MIND diet: the 10 brain healthy food groups.
- Eating more flavonoid-rich foods reduces dementia risk by up to four times.
- The green Mediterranean diet slows down age-related brain atrophy.
- Eating a more diverse diet is linked to a lower risk of developing dementia.
The study was published in the European Journal of Nutrition (Alateeq et al., 2023).
The results are based on a review of over 70 different studies.
Vitamin D probably does not help protect people from dementia or other brain-related disorders, research finds.
While vitamin D is essential for the body, there is no solid clinical evidence that it benefits brain health.
Ms Krystal Iacopetta, the study’s first author, said:
“Our work counters an emerging belief held in some quarters suggesting that higher levels of vitamin D can impact positively on brain health.”
The results are based on a review of over 70 different studies.
There was no evidence vitamin D protected against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or other brain diseases.
Ms Iacopetta said:
“Past studies had found that patients with a neurodegenerative disease tended to have lower levels of vitamin D compared to healthy members of the population.
This led to the hypothesis that increasing vitamin D levels, either through more UV and sun exposure or by taking vitamin D supplements, could potentially have a positive impact.
A widely held community belief is that these supplements could reduce the risk of developing brain-related disorders or limit their progression.
The results of our in-depth review and an analysis of all the scientific literature however, indicates that this is not the case and that there is no convincing evidence supporting vitamin D as a protective agent for the brain.”
However, there may be evidence that sunlight is good for the brain.
Professor Mark Hutchinson, study co-author, explained:
“We have presented critical evidence that UV light may impact molecular processes in the brain in a manner that has absolutely nothing to do with vitamin D.
It may be that sensible and safe sun exposure is good for the brain and that there are new and exciting factors at play that we have yet to identify and measure.
Unfortunately however, it appears as if vitamin D, although essential for healthy living, is not going to be the miracle ‘sunshine tablet’ solution for brain-disorders that some were actively hoping for.”
The study was published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience (Iacopetta et al., 2018).
The oil is high in an antioxidant organic compound found in some of the healthiest foods in the human diet.