Research shows healthy diet may slow cognitive decline
By Denise A. Valenti

Share this article:  

The Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) took place July 13-18 in Boston. AAIC is the world's largest conference covering the topic of Alzheimer's disease and dementias. Researchers from all over the world gathered to present and discuss the latest findings of causation, diagnosis and treatments.

Among the highlighted research were the following reports:
  • Cancer and chemotherapy were linked with a decreased risk of Alzheimer's disease in veterans.
  • Metformin, a medication for Type 2 diabetes, may be linked with lower Alzheimer's risk among Type 2 diabetes patients compared with other therapies.
  • Older age at retirement appears to be associated with reduced Alzheimer's risk.
  • Socioeconomic disparities may account for the previously observed increased risk of Alzheimer's among African-Americans.
What was notable in this year's conference was the research supporting the contributions of healthy lifestyles and diet to lower rates of cognitive decline. One such work was presented by a group investigating the nutritional status of 264 elders followed for more than seven years in Cache County, Utah. The research team, led by Chelsea Sanders, found that factors related to malnutrition were associated with dementia onset.

Compromised nutritional status as risk factors for dementia were also the topics of the presentation led by John Sibjen, but he hypothesized that this can occur even in the absence of a deficient intake of nutrients due to poor absorption and bioavailability. Sibjen proposes that it might be necessary to supplement many nutrients in those at risk for dementia.

The findings reported by a Finnish group investigating nutrition on a large scale involving 1,200 elders reported that greater consumption of vegetables was associated with better cognitive performance in groups at risk for dementia. Another research team, led by Sabush Selvaraju based in India, studied extracts of walnuts, pomegranate, figs and dates. They found that walnuts and pomegranate extracts in particular offered neuroprotection as did figs and dates, but to a lesser degree.

Omega-3 fish oil was reported to enhance cerebral blood perfusion by a group headed by Harold Pretorius from Ohio. Also reporting on long-chain fatty acids — fish oils — was the research group headed by Martha Morris based in Illinois. The work concluded that the fish oils help slow dementia by maintaining the brains neural reserves.

The offering of practical means for nutritional interventions was the topic of the roundtable presentations by Nancy Emerson Lombardo during a one-day dementia care program, Translating Research to Practice. Her topic was, Nutrition Intervention in Senior Residences: Brain Healthy Whole Foods. The subject of nutrition and dementia is further expanded in the summary document regarding lifestyle and available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Alzheimer's Association is reporting that an estimated 5.2 million Americans have a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease in 2013. With the increased numbers of elderly at risk for dementia, it is reassuring to have research demonstrating practical and holistic means to slow the progression of cognitive dysfunctions.

Dr. Denise A. Valenti is a residency-trained, low-vision/blind-rehabilitation optometrist with additional education and expertise in the field of age-related neurodegenerative diseases with the emphasis on Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Her research has included the study of imaging of retinal neural tissue using Optical Coherence Tomography and functional assessment of neural processing in the visual system using Frequency Doubling Technology. Dr. Valenti provided direct clinical care for more than 25 years and currently is active in research and consultation related to vision, aging, neuroprocessing and cognitive functions.