A recent study published in JAMA Neurology has shed light on the relationship between leading a healthy lifestyle and cognitive function in the elderly population. The study, incorporating data from 586 participants, longitudinal and cohort data, alongside postmortem brain pathology reports, found that regular exercise, a balanced diet, and minimal alcohol consumption are all associated with better cognitive performance in older adults. This association appears to hold true even for individuals exhibiting Alzheimer’s disease pathology, indicating that lifestyle factors may offer a cognitive reserve and enhance cognitive abilities in old age, irrespective of dementia-related brain pathologies.
Physical Activity and Cognitive Decline
One study, part of a systematic review and meta-analysis, incorporated data from 104 studies comprising 341,471 participants. It examined the association between physical activity and cognitive decline in older adults. The study found a weak correlation between baseline physical activity and follow-up global cognition. However, it also concluded that physical activity might help delay cognitive decline at a population health level, albeit to a very small extent. Specific cognitive domains associated with physical activity were episodic memory and verbal fluency. The researchers concluded that physical activity is associated with better late-life cognition, despite the association being weak.
The Growing Burden of Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia currently impact over 55 million individuals globally, with an estimated economic burden exceeding $800 billion annually. This sobering reality underscores the urgent need for the development of prevention strategies. These strategies should target modifiable risk factors to delay or prevent the onset of clinical symptoms, emphasizing the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
The Impact of a Healthy Lifestyle on Cognitive Health
Further research explored the relationship between a healthy lifestyle and cognitive function in older adults. The findings revealed that adopting a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and non-smoking, is associated with better cognitive function in older adults. The research suggests that promoting a healthy lifestyle could positively influence cognitive health in aging populations.
Lifestyle Factors and Dementia-related Pathologies
Another study in JAMA Neurology showed that older adults with a healthy lifestyle exhibited better cognitive function even in the presence of Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related pathologies. The findings suggested that a 1-point increase in a healthy lifestyle score was associated with better cognitive performance. Moreover, even with the presence of beta-amyloid load, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, healthy lifestyle scores remained independently associated with cognition. This indicates that lifestyle may provide cognitive benefits even for individuals who have begun to accumulate dementia-related pathologies. However, more clinical studies are needed to support these findings.
Future Research and Clinical Implications
The authors of these studies have noted that further research is necessary to understand how lifestyle factors are associated with better cognitive scores in old age. An accompanying editorial to the JAMA Neurology study emphasized the importance of health and lifestyle factors as crucial strategies for the prevention and reduction of Alzheimer’s disease risk. It called for more well-designed randomized controlled trials to pave the way for dementia risk reduction in the era of precision medicine. Such research will play a pivotal role in guiding future prevention strategies and clinical implications for cognitive health in older adults.