A new report suggests that cognitive training, blood pressure management for people with hypertension, and increased physical activity could be beneficial to prevent cognitive decline and dementia.

A group of researchers published a series of recommendations that may help delay memory loss, including controlling high blood pressure, regular exercise and some memory training exercises. The recommendations were issued Thursday by the committee at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Image credit: Falls of Sound
Image credit: Falls of Sound

The scientists believe that other than the recommended actions, there’s no cure and no specific way to delay the loss of brain power that comes with aging, or the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Experts said there is little that can be done to prevent Alzheimer’s right now

Over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is expected to grow. There’s no cure for the disease, and treatments aren’t too effective. Drugs like Aricept, also known as donepezil, and Namenda can reduce some symptoms for a while, but they do not stop the worsening of the disease.

However, there is some evidence that certain lifestyle changes could help to reduce the risk, or at least slow down the onset of dementia. The committee analyzed all the best research on ways to prevent memory loss and cognitive impairment, which is the loss of the ability to think clearly and make decisions.

The experts concluded that while there are numerous products –from memory games to supplements- that claim they can slow down or prevent the decline of memory loss, there’s actually little that can be done to avoid this.

“At present, there are no pharmacologic or lifestyle inventions that will prevent mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Ronald Petersen, an Alzheimer’s expert at the Mayo Clinic, who was part of the committee, according to NBC News. “All this is not new, but this review is the strongest evidence base we have.”

Peterson noted that the committee had been exposed to several studies, and as one suggests this intervention is beneficial, the other finds it’s not. This new review looked at the totality of literature available over the last six years and put it to rigorous tests, said Peterson.

Over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is expected to grow. Image credit: Cadabam's Hospitals
Over 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and this number is expected to grow. Image credit: Cadabam’s Hospitals

Memory training exercises, controlling blood pressure and ‘brisk’ walks could help prevent dementia

The committee said there were three rays of hope: cognitive training, blood pressure control, and exercise. Dr. Alan Leshner, chair of the committee and CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that while clinical trials have not conclusively supported the three interventions, the evidence is strong enough to suggest the public should have access to these results in order to help inform their decisions about how can they invest their time to maintain brain health with aging.

Peterson noted that the strongest evidence was in the area of cognitive training, which doesn’t mean Sudoku or crossword puzzles, although he added that these wouldn’t hurt. The committee believes the best evidence came from a study looking at specialized training.

“This was a study that looked at specific training of groups of people on, for example, memory improvement techniques, mnemonic techniques as they’re called,” said Petersen, according to NBC News.

Petersen suggested that, for instance, instead of using a smartphone calculator to figure out a tip, do it in your head. He cautioned that commercial products have not proven they help, and he said they are very concerned about the brain game industry, which could take their findings and just create another brain game.

Controlling blood pressure is another recommendation issued by the experts, as good evidence shows it can reduce the risk of memory loss and dementia. Also, they noted that some studies show that exercise can also help with that, such as brisk walking.

The committee said that none of the evidence was strong enough to justify a public education campaign. Peterson added that people could make everyday changes in their lives to keep their brains sharper.

“Try to avoid the tendency to sit down, watch television for endless hours at night,” he said. “Get out there, do something.”

Source: NBC News