New findings link lifestyle to memory problems

Posted on 21st July 2015

Researchers in the US have announced new findings which highlight factors that could affect the risk of memory problems as we age.

The investigators analysed data from the Einstein Aging Study, a project which has monitored the memory and thinking ability of older people living in a particular borough of New York since the 1980s. Scientists presented a number of findings based on work done with the Einstein Ageing Study at this week’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Washington, D.C.

Much of the work relates to amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) – memory and thinking problems which are less severe than dementia but often precede the condition. It can be difficult to distinguish normal age-related memory changes from aMCI, and doctors need new ways to reliably identify people with the condition. The researchers suggested that subtle differences in an aspect of memory called memory binding could help identify healthy older people at a higher risk of developing aMCI and dementia. They found that people with lower scores on the Memory Biding Test could be 2.5 times more likely to develop aMCI. The presentations also highlighted research suggesting that certain people who feel more stressed, and individuals with poorer coping skills may be at an increased risk of developing aMCI.

Other research with the Einstein Aging Study aimed to determine whether rates of dementia might be changing over time. Looking at people in the study born between 1916 and 1935, the researchers showed that those born after 1930 had an 18% reduction in their risk of developing dementia – indicating that dementia rates could be falling. They propose that this lower risk may be due to improvements in the way high blood pressure or diabetes are managed, both risk factors for dementia.

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:

“This work with the Einstein Aging Study highlights some interesting areas for future research. Studies that follow large groups of people over long periods of time are important as they allow researchers to unpick lifestyle factors that can affect brain health as people get older, and reveal how the impact of dementia might be changing over time. Alzheimer’s Research UK is proud to be investing £3m in a longitudinal study looking at the risk factors for dementia in the UK’s longest running birth cohort.

“Previous large scale research studies have shown that eating a balanced diet, drinking in moderation, keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, and staying mentally and physically active can all help to lower our risk of memory problems as we age. While it will never be possible to completely prevent dementia, if everyone was encouraged to adopt these positive lifestyle choices, we could expect to see a reduction in the proportion of people who develop dementia.”

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