A research of Chinese seniors conducted over the course of a decade and published in today’s issue of The BMJ reveals that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and particularly a good diet, is connected with slower memory deterioration.
A healthy lifestyle has been shown to reduce memory loss even in those who have the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, the greatest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
Consistent deterioration in memory with age is a fact of life, but the impact of a healthy lifestyle in old age has not been well investigated. Given the diversity of factors that might contribute to memory loss, it’s probable that a synergistic impact from many preventative measures is necessary.
Using data from the China Cognition and Aging Study, which included 29,000 persons over the age of 60 (average age 72; 49% women) with optimal cognitive function, researchers dug further into this question.
The AVLT, an assessment of memory, and the APOE gene screening identified 20% of individuals as APOE carriers in 2009, when the research began. Over the following decade, in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2019, we followed up with more evaluations.
A healthy lifestyle score was then computed by adding together six factors: food, exercise, social interaction (such as visiting friends and relatives), cognitive activity (such as writing, reading, or playing mahjong), smoking status, and alcohol use.
Participants were classified as either APOE carrier or non-carrier, and as having a healthy lifestyle (4 to 6 healthy factors) or an unhealthy lifestyle (1 to 2 healthy factors).
Each healthy practice was related with a slower than normal deterioration in memory over a 10-year period, even after researchers accounted for a variety of other health, economic, and social characteristics.
A nutritious diet slowed memory deterioration more than any other factor, including mental or physical activity.
Memory loss in the group with the most pleasant lives was 0.28 points slower over 10 years relying on a standardized rating of the AVLT compared to the group with the least favorable lifestyles, while memory decline in the group with an average lifestyle was 0.16 points slower.
Memory loss slowed down more slowly among APOE carriers who had healthy or average lives compared to those who led unhealthy or average lives (0.027 and 0.014 points per year slower, respectively).
The APOE group also showed comparable findings, with those who had more favorable or average lives being almost 90% and over 30% less likely to acquire dementia or moderate cognitive impairment, respectively, compared to those who led less favorable lives.
The scientists admit that this observational study has certain limitations, including the likelihood of measurement error owing to self-reporting of lifestyle characteristics and the risk of selection bias due to the fact that not all individuals returned for follow-up examinations.
However, the size and duration of this research made it possible to assess the impact of several lifestyle variables on memory retention over time. The results are reliable since they held up to further testing.
Researchers concluded that their findings give strong evidence that a healthy lifestyle characterized by a variety of good activities is related with a reduced rate of memory decline, even among those who are predisposed to memory loss due to hereditary factors.
They acknowledge that younger individuals, who were excluded from this study, may also have memory issues, and recommend future research might concentrate on the impact of a healthy lifestyle on memory deterioration throughout the lifetime. These findings may provide useful information for public health programs to safeguard older persons against memory deterioration,.
They note, however, that it is not clear from these findings which of the six health behaviors measured by the score (or whatever combination thereof) should be prioritized in attempts to reduce the risk of dementia, or when in a person’s life this should be done. More research is required to establish the therapeutic significance of the disparities in memory deterioration shown in this study.