Ways to Protect the Aging BrainOn the good side, more people are living longer. But as life expectancy increases, dementia becomes more common.

A scientist in Sweden has studied this dilemma and determined that everyone can minimize his or her risk of being affected — there are, in effect, ways we can protect our aging brains.

Dr. Laura Fratiglioni’s research group at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm has shown that the risk of dementia is partly determined by individual genetic susceptibility. And age is the greatest risk factor for developing dementia.

But there is growing evidence that the strong association with increasing age can be at least partially explained by cumulative exposure to different risk factors over the lifespan. Factors from blood pressure and weight to the degree of physical and mental activity can influence cognitive functioning as one gets older.

Further education early in life has a protective effect, and the group’s research has shown that it is never too late to get started.

“The brain, just as other parts of the body, requires stimulation and exercise in order to continue to function. Elderly people with an active life – mentally, physically and socially – run a lower risk of developing dementia, and it doesn’t matter what the particular activities are,” said Fratiglioni.

Fratiglioni’s research has shown that physical factors are also significant. Not only high and low blood pressure, but also diabetes and obesity when middle-aged increase the risk of developing dementia after the age of 70.

“What is good for the heart is good for the brain,” she said.

Scientists in other current studies in Europe are investigating what happens when a large number of study participants are given special help to better control vascular risk factors and to stimulate social, physical and mental activities.

“You could say that we are progressing from observation to experiment. This means that in a few years we will know more about which strategies are most effective in preventing neurodegenerative disorders,” said Fratiglioni.

Source: Karolinska Institutet