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Researchers: Lifestyle Changes Can Reverse Cognitive Decline

New Findings Published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease

Tom Shea
Prof. Tom Shea

10/26/2018

Contacts for media: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – The subtle memory decline that can precede Alzheimer’s disease for a decade or more could be slowed or even reversed through lifestyle modifications, according to newly published research. 

The findings are by UMass Lowell Biological Sciences Prof. Thomas Shea and Nursing Prof. Ruth Remington of Framingham State University, and are being published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 

The researchers also found that the early stages of cognitive decline can go virtually unnoticed before progressing to what would be diagnosed as mild cognitive impairment, delaying medical intervention or lifestyle changes that could hold off or even reverse it. 

As such, the findings highlight the importance of lifestyle modifications prior to any detectable cognitive decline regardless of age and, according to the researchers, demonstrates that improved nutrition maintains cognitive performance throughout the entire life span. 

“Our studies, along with many from other laboratories, demonstrate that so-called ‘lifestyle modifications,’ including improved nutrition, staying socially active and doing cognitive exercise can enhance and preserve cognitive performance in older adults,” said Shea. “In our current analyses, we showed that, while elderly individuals performed slower than younger individuals on complex cognitive tests, they nevertheless were capable of improving to the same degree as younger individuals following nutritional supplementation.” 

The new findings by Shea and Remington are based on a new look at data from previous research that the pair conducted using a nutritional supplement that they developed to target cognitive impairment. 

Shea said that looking at the data again offered more to learn about “cognitive reserve,” which can allow the brain to get around challenges when it cannot take them head-on, such as knowing that five plus seven equals 12 rather than actually doing the math. 

“As we age, this can become really important,” he said, adding that the study shows that such cognitive reserve can be improved. The research that was revisited included data from subjects ranging in age from 18 to late 70s, offering a chance to look at lots of age groups and how they performed on a variety of tests of executive function, such as the aspect of the brain that provides the ability to plan one’s day, to make a meal from collecting ingredients and seeing the preparation through to the end, and other complex tasks. Shea said the majority of subjects who modified their lifestyle scored better on the tests, some improving to the extent that they scored at a level that would be expected for someone 15 years younger. 

“It’s never too late. The earlier you modify your lifestyle, the better the results may be,” he said, noting that such modifications can include eating as healthfully as possible and taking a multivitamin, as well as being socially and intellectually active, such as doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku. “Don’t sit home alone. Those things all keep the brain going. You have to exercise it or just like a muscle, you lose it.” 

About UMass Lowell
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu

About the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease
Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018, the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease is an international multidisciplinary journal to facilitate progress in understanding the etiology, pathogenesis, epidemiology, genetics, behavior, treatment and psychology of Alzheimer's disease. The journal publishes research reports, reviews, short communications, book reviews, and letters-to-the-editor. Groundbreaking research that has appeared in the journal includes novel therapeutic targets, mechanisms of disease and clinical trial outcomes. The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease has an Impact Factor of 3.731 according to the 2016 Journal Citation Reports® (Clarivate Analytics, 2017). www.j-alz.com