Lifestyle May Be Key to Helping You Avoid Dementia

Denise Mann wrote . . . . . . . . .

Socializing, taking classes and exercising may boost your brain’s cognitive reserve and stave off memory and thinking problems down the road, a new study suggests.

Cognitive reserve refers to the brain’s ability to withstand the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s and not show signs of decline.

The best way to boost your cognitive reserve?

“Never stop being curious, and learn something new or pick up a new hobby,” said study author Pamela Almeida-Meza, a doctoral student at University College London. “Stay active and connected, exercise, go on daily walks, keep in touch with your family and prioritize visiting your friends.”

For the study, researchers looked at genes and lifestyle factors among 1,184 people born in 1946 in the United Kingdom. Folks took cognitive tests when they were 8 and again at 69.

Everyone in the study received a cognitive reserve score that combined their education level at 26, participation in enriching leisure activities at 43, and job up to age 53. Reading ability at age 53 was tested as an additional measure of overall lifelong learning.

The cognitive test that folks took at age 69 had a maximum total score of 100, and the average score for this group was 92.

Folks with higher childhood cognitive abilities, a higher cognitive reserve score and advanced reading ability performed better on the cognitive test at age 69, the study showed.

People with higher education levels also fared better than their counterparts who did not have a formal education.

Folks who engaged in six or more leisure activities, such as adult education classes, clubs, volunteer work, social activities and gardening, scored higher than people who engaged in four or fewer leisure activities.

What’s more, those participants who had a professional or intermediate level job scored higher on the cognitive test at age 69 than those in lesser-skilled positions.

Previous studies have shown that people with low scores on cognitive tests as kids are more likely to have a steeper cognitive decline with advancing age, but this may not be the case after all.

“The finding suggests that a mentally, socially and physically active lifestyle at midlife can offset the negative contribution of low childhood cognition to older age cognitive state,” Almeida-Meza said.

The APOE4 gene, which increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, was linked with lower scores on the cognitive test at age 69, but participants with high or low childhood cognition scores showed similar rates of mental decline with age, regardless of their APOE4 status.

The study appears in the Neurology.

The findings show that genes aren’t destiny when it comes to risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, said Lei Yu, an associate professor at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago.

“Cognitive performance in old age is not fully determined by what was inherited from our parents,” said Yu, who reviewed the new study.

“Older adults who are actively engaged in cognitive [e.g., reading, or playing checkers, cards, puzzles or board games], social [e.g., spending time with family members or friends, going to church, volunteering or participating in group activities] and physical activities [e.g., regular exercise] are more likely to maintain late-life cognition, even in the presence of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” he said.

Michal Schnaider Beeri is a professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She co-authored an editorial accompanying the study.

“The study findings support the relevance of a lifelong investment in the accumulation of cognitive reserve for the maintenance of healthy cognition later in life,” she said.

“From a public health and societal perspective, there may be broad long-term benefits in investing in high education, widening opportunities for leisure activities, and proactively providing cognitively challenging activities for individuals at less skilled occupations,” Schnaider Beeri said.

And, she said, it’s never too late to start boosting your cognitive reserve.

“Although younger brains learn faster and more effectively, older and even [much] older brains have plasticity and the capacity to learn,” Schnaider Beeri noted.

She recommended getting out of your comfort zone and learning a new language or skill, or a new musical instrument.

“Feeding our brains with intellectual engagement and effort should be seen as a lifelong process to maintain healthy brain aging,” Schnaider Beeri said.

Source: HealthDay





Thyroid Trouble May Raise Dementia Risks

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . . . . .

Millions of older adults try to manage an underactive thyroid gland with daily medication, but a new study suggests they may still be vulnerable to developing dementia as they age.

Researchers found that among over 15,000 older Taiwanese adults, those who’d been treated for hypothyroidism were substantially more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. Hypothyroidism occurs when the body is not producing enough thyroid hormones, which control metabolism.

That underproduction can cause an array of symptoms, including fatigue, intolerance to cold, constipation, body aches, depression and weight gain. Studies show that waning thyroid hormones may also dull a person’s thinking skills — in a way that’s reversible with thyroid medication.

But whether hypothyroidism can contribute to irreversible dementia has been unclear. And the new study, published recently in the journal Neurology, does not answer that question definitively.

“We found that for patients with hypothyroidism that required medication, the risk of dementia was much higher,” said researcher Dr. Chien-Hsiang Weng, of Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, in Providence, R.I.

“But it’s hard to know why,” he stressed. “We can’t really say that hypothyroidism causes dementia.”

In addition, the vast majority of patients with dementia in the study had no history of diagnosed hypothyroidism: Just under 1% did.

Still, Weng said, it’s useful to know that older people with hypothyroidism — for whatever reason — may have a heightened likelihood of developing dementia. That way, patients and doctors can be on the lookout for potential signs of declines in memory and thinking.

“We wanted to let clinicians know that hypothyroidism might be one of the risk factors,” Weng said.

The findings are based on medical records from over 15,000 older adults, half of whom had been diagnosed with dementia. Each of those patients was compared with a dementia-free patient of the same sex and age.

Among dementia patients, the study found, 0.9% had a history of hypothyroidism, versus 0.4% of those without dementia.

After the researchers weighed other factors — including any history of heart disease, diabetes, depression or alcohol dependence — they found that hypothyroidism, itself, was linked to a higher dementia risk.

Among patients aged 65 and older, those with a history of hypothyroidism were 81% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. The difference was even greater when the researchers looked at patients who’d been given hormone-replacement medication for the condition: Their dementia risk was threefold higher, versus people without hypothyroidism.

“We don’t think it has anything to do with the medication itself,” Weng noted. “We think medication use is a marker of more severe hypothyroidism.”

The study uncovered no connection between dementia risk and hyperthyroidism, or overactivity in the thyroid gland.

A dementia expert who was not involved in the study emphasized that it cannot pin the blame on hypothyroidism.

“More work is needed to understand what this may mean, if anything, in terms of biological mechanisms and impact on [dementia] risk,” said Heather Snyder, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association.

Snyder noted that other research has been digging into the potential role of thyroid hormones in mental acuity and dementia risk.

“Some recent studies have examined whether a thyroid hormone called T3 may be linked to biological processes in Alzheimer’s,” she said.

The hormone apparently declines as people age, and lower T3 levels might promote the generation of beta-amyloid — a protein that builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

“To date, however, scientists have not clarified the exact relationship between abnormal thyroid hormone levels and dementia risk,” Snyder said.

For now, she and Weng both said people should be aware that thyroid health is important to overall health, and talk to their doctor if they have potential symptoms of underactive thyroid.

Source: HealthDay





Thyroid Problems Linked to Increased Risk of Dementia

Older people with hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, may be at increased risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The risk of developing dementia was even higher for people whose thyroid condition required thyroid hormone replacement medication.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. This can slow metabolism. Symptoms include feeling tired, weight gain and sensitivity to cold.

“In some cases, thyroid disorders have been associated with dementia symptoms that can be reversible with treatment,” said study author Chien-Hsiang Weng, MD, MPH, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “While more studies are needed to confirm these findings, people should be aware of thyroid problems as a possible risk factor for dementia and therapies that could prevent or slow irreversible cognitive decline.”

For the study, researchers looked at the health records of 7,843 people newly diagnosed with dementia in Taiwan and compared them to the same number of people who did not have dementia. Their average age was 75. Researchers looked to see who had a history of either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism, which is also called overactive thyroid, is when the thyroid produces too much hormone. This can increase metabolism. Symptoms include unintended weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat and nervousness or anxiety.

A total of 102 people had hypothyroidism and 133 had hyperthyroidism.

The researchers found no link between hyperthyroidism and dementia.

Of the people with dementia, 68 people, or 0.9%, had hypothyroidism, compared to 34 of the people without dementia, or 0.4%. When researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect the risk of dementia, such as sex, age, high blood pressure and diabetes, they found that people over age 65 with hypothyroidism were 80% more likely to develop dementia than people the same age who did not have thyroid problems. For people younger than 65, having a history of hypothyroidism was not associated with an increased risk of dementia.

When researchers looked only at people who took medication for hypothyroidism, they found they were three times more likely to develop dementia than those who did not take medication. “One explanation for this could be that these people are more likely to experience greater symptoms from hypothyroidism where treatment was needed,” Weng said.

Weng noted that the observational study does not prove that hypothyroidism is a cause of dementia; it only shows an association.

A limitation of the study was that researchers were not able to include information about how severe the hypothyroidism was for participants.

Source: American Academy of Neurology



Vision Issues Could Raise Odds for Dementia

Untreated vision loss may put an older adult at an increased risk for dementia, though it’s not clear why, according to a new study.

Researchers found that the likelihood of having some form of cognitive impairment was 137% higher in seniors who had trouble seeing than in those without vision issues. Cognitive impairment is a general term for problems with thinking and memory.

“Although the reasons behind this remain unclear, it suggests that diagnosing and treating eye conditions may be beneficial — both to improve a person’s quality of life and also to potentially slow down or stop memory loss,” said lead researcher Beibei Xu, an associate professor at Peking University in China.

For the study, recently published in the journal Aging & Mental Health, Xu’s team reviewed 16 research papers that included more than 76,000 participants.

Those who had a vision condition had a 41% higher risk of impairment and 44% higher odds for full-blown dementia.

Xu said the study was among first to evaluate the link between eye problems and thinking in older adults through a comprehensive research review.

“Our findings add to the growing evidence that fading eyesight is a risk factor for developing dementia,” Xu said in a journal news release.

There was an increased risk no matter whether seniors had reported the vision issues or they were found by a doctor.

An estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is expected to rise to 14 million by 2060.

Finding ways to prevent or delay the onset of dementia could reduce its devastating impact, Xu said.

“Identifying modifiable risk factors is the first critical step for developing effective interventions to achieve this goal,” Xu said. “Our new results highlight the importance of regular eye examinations for older adults — enabling any potential problems with their vision to be spotted and treated early. They also suggest that any self-reported changes to a person’s eyesight should not be ignored.”

Source: HealthDay



Study: Shingles Won’t Raise Risk for Dementia

If you’ve survived a painful bout of shingles, at least you won’t have to worry that it might raise your future risk of dementia, new research indicates.

Shingles, caused by the reactivation of the chickenpox virus, results in a blistering rash from nerve inflammation, and there has been speculation that the inflammation may boost the chances of a dementia diagnosis down the road, so a team of scientists decided to investigate.

They analyzed data from more than 247,000 people in Denmark who visited a hospital or were prescribed antiviral medication for shingles over the course of 20 years, and 1.2 million age- and sex-matched people without the illness. The average age of people in the study was 64.

Of those who had shingles, 9.7% developed dementia up to 21 years later. The rate was 10.3% among those with no history of shingles, the investigators found.

After adjusting for other health conditions — such as diabetes, cancer and traumatic head injury — people with shingles actually had a 7% lower risk of dementia than people who did not have shingles, according to the study published online June 8 in the journal Neurology.

“We were surprised by these results,” said study author Dr. Sigrun Alba Johannesdottir Schmidt, from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.

“The reasons for this decreased risk are unclear, but it could be explained by missed diagnoses of shingles in people with undiagnosed dementia,” Schmidt said in a journal news release. “Shingles vaccination is encouraged for older people because it can prevent complications from the disease, but our study suggests it is unlikely to reduce dementia risk.”

The study did find that people who had shingles that had spread to the central nervous system had nearly twice the risk of developing dementia, but such complications affect fewer than 0.1% of people with shingles, Schmidt noted.

“As a person’s age increases, so does their risk of dementia, and it’s important to determine which factors may contribute to this risk,” Schmidt said. “Shingles most often affects people over age 50. The good news is that our study found it does not seem to increase a person’s risk for dementia.”

Source: HealthDay