Dementia in the News
Last week the Alzheimer’s Association held its international conference in London. As a result, news about the study of dementia was all over the media this week. Dementia is defined as a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning. There are more than 3 million cases of dementia identified in the U.S. every year. Here are four significant stories about dementia that were in the news this week:
Dementia and Speech and Hearing
Scientists have traced the roots of dementia back to midlife, a time when hearing loss and changes in speech patterns may signal the onset of cognitive decline. The study further suggested that even in our 50s and 60s, when a dementia diagnosis may be years away, there are detectable factors that may signal — or even contribute to — dementia. Certain behaviors, including vibrant intellectual and social engagement, offer some protection from the ravages of cognitive decline as we age.
In a study that tracks the cognitive health of middle-aged adults, researchers selected those who had at least one parent with Alzheimer’s to investigate changes in speech patterns as predictors of dementia. Participants were recorded describing a visual image, each recording separated by at least two years. The participants who were identified with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), often a precursor of dementia, showed signs as early as their 50s.
The role of hearing in predicting dementia also emerged as an early marker for cognitive decline. In a study that looked at fifty-somethings, researchers found that those reporting a diagnosis of hearing loss performed worse on tests of cognitive skills. When they were examined about four years later, those with hearing loss were more than three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.
Dementia and Sleep
Getting a solid night’s sleep is crucial not only for feeling good the next day — there is increasing evidence that it may also protect against dementia, according to new research.
Three studies by researchers at Wheaton College in Illinois found significant connections between breathing disorders that interrupt sleep and the accumulation of biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia and Race
Harsh life experiences appear to leave African-Americans vulnerable to dementia. Poverty, disadvantage and stressful life events appear to be strongly associated with cognitive problems in middle age and dementia later in life among African-Americans. The findings could help explain why African-Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to develop dementia.
Scientists have struggled to understand why African-Americans are so likely to develop dementia. They are more likely to have conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which can affect the brain. The research presented at the Alzheimer’s conference in London recently suggests the missing factors involve adverse life experiences beginning in childhood. These experiences have already been linked to a range of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
Dementia and Diet
If you read this blog regularly, you may have read my piece on the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay or MIND diet. Two studies have concluded that the MIND diet lowers the risk of dementia. Four new studies suggest that eating right may help protect your brain health in old age.
The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which were originally designed to help improve heart health. Seniors who carefully followed the MIND diet had a 35 percent lower risk of declining brain function as they aged. Even people who halfheartedly adhered to a MIND diet reduced their risk of brain decline between 18 to 24 percent.
A heart healthy diet improves cardiac output, essential for keeping the brain adequately oxygenated. It also protects the blood vessels inside the brain, reducing the chances of health problems that impact brain health. To read my blog on the MIND diet, click here.