Recently, a group in Finland studied the effect of lifestyle on dementia, and tested whether a multi-domain intervention could improve or maintain cognitive functions of at-risk elderly people from the general population. The ‘multi-domain’ approach included a change in diet, health habits, improved exercise regiments, cognitive training, vascular risk monitoring, and a reduction in non-healthy habits (e.g. drinking and smoking). The study started in 2009 and patients were recruited through 2011.
This Finnish study entitled FINGER (Finnish Geriatric Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability), involved a very detailed analysis of 2,654 people. Participants were between 60-77 years of age. They also had a Dementia Risk Score of at least six points and a cognitive score that was equal to or only slightly lower than expected for their age. As with all clinical trials, the groups were divided into a ‘control’ group that would receive only general health advice and the multi-domain approach group. Since it was theorized that age related dementia may be brought on or accentuated due to a number of unhealthy lifestyle and vascular risk factors, the goal of the research was to monitor, measure and follow all of the participants in each group to evaluate whether there was any improvement or reduction in cognitive decline for those in the multi-domain approach.
The results of the study showed a 25% to 150% improvement rate of the cognitive levels of those that participated in the multi-domain approach. This was one of the most important findings from any dementia clinic trials, and showed that the risk of dementia can be reduced, or even reversed with lifestyle changes. Poor lifestyle and vascular conditions have become a serious human, social and economic burden and at least one third have been attributed to seven factors that can be modified: lower education, midlife hypertension, midlife obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, smoking and depression. The research was designed to address these elements to see if making changes in these risk factors would improve or at least keep the conditions from getting worse.
What this translates to is that improvement in those risk factors that the medical community has been warning us about can actually assist in reducing the chance of dementia symptoms, even when approached at older age values. A seven year follow up study is planned to assess intervention effects on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and the related functional outcomes. Preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by a five year factor could present positive results of reduction of up to 50% in fifty years, or 10% per decade.