Research Reveals Two New Ways We Can Reduce the Risk of Cognitive Decline as We Age
Maintaining a balanced diet, spending time with loved ones, and getting plenty of exercise are all known ways to reduce the risk of cognitive decline as you age. As more and more research is conducted on the brain, scientists are constantly finding new ways to prevent diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's in humans. The latest study, which comes from researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine, found that cataract surgery significantly lowers dementia risk in seniors.
To obtain their findings—which were published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine—the team studied more than 3,000 dementia-free participants over the age of 65. They followed up with the participants biennially and found that people who had undergone cataract surgery had a nearly 30 percent lower risk of developing dementia from any cause compared to those who did not. Additionally, the lowered risk persisted for at least a decade post-operation and was also associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease. "This kind of evidence is as good as it gets in epidemiology," says the study's lead researcher, Dr. Cecilia Lee, in a statement. "This is really exciting because no other medical intervention has shown such a strong association with lessening dementia risk in older individuals."
One thing their research can't explain, however, is exactly how cataract surgery lessens the risk of dementia. There are two theories—one being that people are getting higher quality sensory input after cataract surgery, the second possible explanation is that people are getting more blue light. "Some special cells in the retina are associated with cognition and regulate sleep cycles, and these cells respond well to blue light," says Lee. "Cataracts specifically block blue light and cataract surgery could reactivate those cells."
There are other ways to minimize the risk of cognitive impairment in the elderly beyond cataract surgery. Another recent study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, conducted by researchers at the University of Barcelona and the CIBER on Frailty and Healthy Aging, found that a diet rich in plant products reduces the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in the elderly.
The European study was carried out over 12 years with the participation of over 800 people over the age of 65 living in the Bordeaux and Dijon regions of France. The study analyzed plasma samples from the participants and found that several foods and beverages including cocoa, coffee, mushrooms, red wine, apple, green tea, blueberries, oranges, and pomegranates are associated with a decreased risk of cognitive decline in the elderly.
The study concluded that changes in lifestyle and diet are effective strategies to prevent the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and other dementias. "A higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods provides polyphenols and other bioactive compounds that could help reduce the risk of cognitive decline due to aging," says study author and professor, Cristina Andrés-Lacueva.