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Avoiding dementia similar to heart disease – lifestyle changes important
March 13th, 2012
08:01 AM ET

Avoiding dementia similar to heart disease – lifestyle changes important

Late-life dementia has a lot in common with heart disease – and many of the same causes, according to an article published Tuesday in Nature Reviews Neurology.

Like heart disease, the cognitive impairment that accompanies aging is usually the result of a combination of lifestyle and other factors, the article says. Diabetes, obesity, untreated hypertension, sedentary lifestyle and stress are all linked to both heart disease and dementia.

Other factors linked to dementia: untreated obstructive sleep apnea, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, vitamin B12 deficiency, post traumatic stress disorder, head trauma, brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen, and the ApoE, or Alzheimer’s, gene.

Lead author Dr. Majd Fotuhi says the latest research shows dementia can be delayed, stopped and sometimes even reversed with lifestyle changes.

Fotuhi, an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says this is empowering news for anyone worried about dementia or confronting mental decline.

“All of a sudden you can be in charge,” says Fotuhi, who is also chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Research and Fitness. He estimates only a fifth of late-life dementia is Alzheimer’s.

Fotuhi and his colleagues reviewed factors that alter the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus, a pair of almost thumb-sized structures on either side of the brain, is critical for the formation of new memories.

A large hippocampus is associated with good memory and cognitive function; a smaller  hippocampus is linked to the development of dementia.

“The hippocampus is very sensitive to a number of environmental factors,” Fotuhi says.

Unlike other structures in the brain, the hippocampus can increase in size in adults. Studies show moderate exercise, mental stimulation, meditation, and treatment for cardiovascular disease, clinical depression and obstructive sleep apnea all increase the size of the hippocampus.

Fotuhi and his co-authors argue that researchers looking into the causes and cures for cognitive decline have placed too much focus on the amyloid plaques that accompany Alzheimer’s dementia.

Arthur Kramer, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has studied exercise, hippocampus size and memory in older adults.

“I think the news is good that there are steps we can take before that wonder drug is discovered to enhance the health of the brain,” Kramer says. He adds that researchers now need to learn what’s going on in the hippocampus when it increases in volume.

Dr. Christopher Callahan, director of the Indiana University Center for Aging Research, says the article points to the growing body of evidence of the brain’s ability to grow and change, even among older adults.

“There are already many reasons for people to watch their diet and control chronic conditions and increase physical activity,” Callahan says. The challenge for doctors, he adds, is finding ways to motivate patients to change their lifestyles.

“Losing your cognitive skills is up there in terms of what people fear – more than their fear of dying. It could be this is a particular lever to get people to take care of themselves,” Callahan says.

Caleb Finch, a professor of gerontology and biological sciences at USC, cautions that no amount of lifestyle changes can address Alzheimer’s.

“If it’s Alzheimer’s, there’s not much that can be done right now,” Finch says. “By the time Alzheimer’s is even in the earliest stages, there’s been a massive loss of neurons in the hippocampus and cortex. There’s nothing known to prevent or reverse that because the cells are gone.”


soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Anna

    Researchers in London showed that the key to reversing dementia and heart disease is to use a speciialized diabetes diet.
    All Alzheimer's and heart disease can be reversed in many people by using a specialized diabetes diet. This was proven in Scandinavia News. You may not have diabetes but Alzheimer's is related to blood sugar. Alzheimer's and diabetes has risen at the same exact level over the last 30 years. A specialized diabetes diet in Denmark was shown to improve memory in Dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers.
    Just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

    March 13, 2012 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Portland tony

    Accordingly, we should all be taking blood pressure meds, statins, Ambien, B12, antidepressants, and doing crossword puzzles, workouts in a gym, wearing a safety helmet and attend meditation classes to avoid dementia. Not withstanding there is no known cause or cure for the "elephant in the
    room":Alzheimers

    March 13, 2012 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SKae

      AMEN.

      Agree 100 percent.

      March 15, 2012 at 09:05 | Report abuse |
  3. SCIENCE V MEDICIE

    LOOK @ BRAINS IN DIFFERENT GEOGRAPHICAL REGIONS! I BELIEVE POLLUTION – MGO'S – FOOD ADDITIVES – AND ELEMENTS IN MATERIALS WE TOUCH R THE REAL CORPRUTS TO DEMENTIA IM SICK OF THE LIES I WASNT BORN YESTERDAY

    March 13, 2012 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. sam

    Forgot to mention the use of ALCOHOL and how it shrinks the brain.............MAIN CULPRIT

    March 14, 2012 at 04:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Livilou

    I agree about both pollution and alcohol. I also believe that depression has a lot to do with dementia. My grandfather is 76, and by all standards, should've died long ago. He's had 3 heart attacks, 2 strokes, Type 2 diabetes, and stage 2 prostate cancer. Ten years ago, despite all of these problems, he was functional cognitively and was one of the highest paid engineers at the AFB near my town. As soon as he retired, he adopted a sedentary life-style, both physically and mentally. That's when his cognitive function dropped to almost nil. Yet just a year after he was treated for depression and given medication, he has regained 80% of his cognitive function, and has lost 40+ pounds. I think that depression shouldn't be a risk factor for dementia, but rather stage 1, regarding adults over the age of 50. Plus everyone feels better on XANAX.

    March 15, 2012 at 10:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. gaurangisharma

    It has been observed that most of the dementia is nonreversible. Nonreversible means the changes in the brain that are causing the dementia cannot be stopped or turned back. People with this condition have abnormal protein structures in certain areas of the brain.
    nnursing home

    April 11, 2012 at 06:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Amal

    SOON so he has time to make it right before rlaieseng it.Congrats on Team JF for their newest version and even more thanks to C4EVA for taking your spare time to give back to the rest of us for free your work and time is appreciated.

    July 1, 2012 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Burt Beatrice

    All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Insulin and some oral medications can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugars), which can be dangerous if severe. Both types 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that cannot be cured. Pancreas transplants have been tried with limited success in type 1 DM; gastric bypass surgery has been successful in many with morbid obesity and type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after delivery..."

    Our very own blog page
    <http://www.caramoan.ph/caramoan-tour/

    May 1, 2013 at 18:23 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.