Having a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can be incredibly devastating, particularly if the disease robs the patient of their memory and ability to do simple daily tasks. No medications are currently approved to treat mild cognitive impairment, and scientists are still hoping to unlock a cure for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Scientists know that the strongest risk factors for the development of mild cognitive impairment are the same as those for dementia: older age, family history of dementia, and conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and stroke.
There are countless supplements lining the shelves of health stores that claim to help fight cognitive decline. An aging brain is bound to slow down each and every one of us, but studies show there are simple ways to delay any form of impairment. Here’s a look at four piece of research that could help one’s effort to avoid cognitive decline. Links to the original post are included at the end of each section.
Eat mushrooms at least twice a week
Adding mushrooms to your meals more frequently may help sharpen your brainpower. A recent study finds that seniors who consume two portions of mushrooms per week are half as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
MCI is considered a stage of cognitive decline not as serious as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but sufferers still find themselves struggling to a degree with memory, attention, and other executive functions. The study suggests that two portions of mushrooms is equal to about a half a plate or 300 grams, though even enjoying one portion a week still provides brain benefits.
The study conducted comprehensive health and cognition tests on 663 adults over the age of 60 in Singapore. Results show that participants who consumed at least two portions of mushrooms per week were significantly less likely to develop MCI compared to participants who said they consumed less than one portion in a week.
A particular compound found in mushrooms was of interest to researchers in the study: ergothioneine, or ET. It’s called a “unique antioxidant and anti-inflammatory” substance that the body can’t produce on its own. Other compounds in mushrooms — hericenones, erinacines, scabronines and dictyophorines — may promote the synthesis of nerve growth factors the study says. Researchers also point to bioactive compounds which could also protect the brain from neurodegeneration by slowing the production of beta amyloid, which can build up and cause cognitive degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.
Mindfulness training can slow it down
Another study finds a safe and non-pharmacological treatment can help people living with mild cognitive impairment: mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is defined as maintaining a blank, moment-by-moment awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. In other words, it is the process of training one’s mind to stay completely in the moment and relieve itself from outside distractions and anxiety triggers.
The study gathered 14 men and women between the ages of 55-90 diagnosed with MCI. Each participant was then randomly assigned to either an eight-week mindfulness meditation course or a “waiting list” control group. Initial results revealed nine participants who were enrolled in the meditation course exhibited improved cognition and well-being, as well as signs of a positive impact on the hippocampus and other areas of the brain linked to cognitive decline.
Moreover, participants who practiced meditating at least 20 minutes per day seemed to understand the process of mindfulness the most. While these findings are very promising, the study cautions that more research is needed before any definitive claims can be made regarding mindfulness meditation and MCI treatment.
Enjoy a night of wine, cheese, and lamb
If the sight of a cheese platter and some good wine at a party brings you sheer delight, A new study has great news for you and your brain! Research reveals the popular pairing may actually contribute to better cognitive health as you age.
The study examined health records for nearly 1,800 adults between 46 and 77 years-old in the United Kingdom. Participants completed a Fluid Intelligence Test at the start of the study between 2006 and 2010. The group then had two follow-up assessments in 2012-13 and 2015-16. All of these tests gave researchers a snapshot of the group’s ability to “think on the fly” as they aged.
Results reveal a surprising diet that may form an unlikely defense against cognitive decline later in life. Researchers say that cheese provides the most protection against age-related cognitive issues. Its impact is significantly greater than any other food in the report. Moreover, study authors say consuming red wine in moderation can improve cognitive function as you age.
Additional findings from the study show that eating lamb weekly can increase mental prowess over the long haul.
READ MORE: More wine and cheese may help reduce cognitive decline, fight Alzheimer’s disease
Find your sleep ‘sweet spot’
We know that sleep plays a key role in how well we remember experiences and things we’ve learned on a given day, but what’s the right amount to optimize our brain power? One study finds that when people find the “sweet spot” between sleeping too little and too much, they unlock a formula to slow cognitive decline.
Both short and long sleepers experience greater cognitive decline than those who slept a moderate amount, even when the effects of early Alzheimer’s disease were taken into account. Poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease are both associated with cognitive decline.
In the study, 100 older adults were asked to provide samples of cerebrospinal fluid to measure levels of Alzheimer’s proteins. Each participant slept with a tiny monitor strapped to their foreheads for four to six nights to measure brain activity during sleep for an average of four-and-a-half years. The majority of participants had no cognitive impairments, with the average age being 75 at the time of the study.
Cognitive scores declined for the groups that slept less than four-and-a-half or more than six-and-a-half hours per night. Thus, the study suggests that there is a middle range, or ‘sweet spot,’ for total sleep time where cognitive performance was stable over time. Short and long sleep times were associated with worse cognitive performance, perhaps due to insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality.
READ MORE: Finding your sleep ‘sweet spot’ slows cognitive decline in old age
While these studies are exciting, it’s extremely important to always first speak with your doctor before making any significant changes to your daily diet, health and lifestyle routines. If you have any suggestions to improve cognitive health, please submit them in the comments below.