Archive for Dietary Tips

Caffeine May Reduce Risk of Dementia in Older Women

Coffee has been proven to have positive effects on the brain, even going so far as to protect the brain against mild cognitive impairment when consumed in moderate, consistent amounts. A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee has added to the growing body of research supporting the brain health benefits of coffee, specifically in women over the age of 65.

Published in the Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, the study found that higher caffeine intake in older women was associated with a reduced risk of developing dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment.

The study analyzed data from 6,467 post-menopausal women who reported some level of caffeine consumption; all women were participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Caffeine intake was estimated from self-reported answers to questions on intake of coffee, tea and cola, including frequency and serving size.

Assessments of cognitive function were performed annually for up to 10 years. Of the participants, 388 women received a diagnosis of probable dementia or another form of cognitive impairment. Self-reported consumption of over 261 milligrams of caffeine per day was associated with a 36 percent reduced risk of dementia. That amount of caffeine is equivalent to two to three eight ounce cups of coffee, five to six eight ounce cups of black tea or seven to eight 12 ounce cans of cola.

After adjusting for risk factors such as hormone therapy, age, race, medical conditions and more, the research team found that individuals who consumed more caffeine than the median amount had lower rates of diagnosis compared to those that consumed less than the median amount. Although the team cannot make a direct link between caffeine consumption and cognitive impairment, their findings add to the growing body of research.

Considering that caffeine is easily incorporated into any diet, these findings are exciting for the field of dementia research. For now, we recommend 1 to 2 cups of coffee daily, as it is best enjoyed in moderation!


How Oral Health Impacts Brain Health

Oral health has often been a good indicator of overall physical and mental health, especially in older adults. A study published in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society is further exploring the connection between teeth and the brain.

The study used data on 62,333 participants from the Japan Gerontological Evaluation Study (JAGES) project. All participants were over the age of 65 and all were determined to be physically and cognitively independent. A baseline survey was conducted between August 2010 and January 2012, and a follow-up survey was administered between January 2013 and December 2013; both surveys consisted of self-administered questionnaires.

The questionnaires included the self-reported number of teeth (20+ natural teeth, 10-19, 1-9 or no natural teeth) and the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology Index of Competence (TMIG-IC), which assesses high-level functional capacity with 13 questions.

The researchers accounted for external factors such as sex, age, medical history, social components and more. They found that participants with fewer than 20 teeth tend to be older than those with more than 20 teeth. They also found that individuals with fewer remaining natural teeth often had a lower socioeconomic status and worse health behaviors.

More importantly, the researchers found that participants with 10 to 19 teeth had a TMIG-IC score that was 0.035 points lower than participants with 20 or more teeth. Participants with 9 teeth or less had significantly lower TMIG-IC scores. The study also found an association between tooth loss and decline in higher-level functional capacity.

The research team believes that there are three potential causes for this association. The first is that tooth loss is often caused by inflammation, and chronic inflammation has been shown to negatively impact physical and cognitive health. Another determinant could be that poor oral health affects an individual’s ability to communicate and be social, which affects brain health. Lastly, the research team hypothesized that tooth loss could impact chewing and nutritional intake, thereby affecting physical and cognitive health.

Although there is the possibility for self-reporting bias in this study, the results lean towards an association between poor oral health and cognitive decline. Keep your teeth (and brain!) healthy by flossing and brushing twice per day – once in the morning and once before bed!


How Vitamin B12 Impacts Brain Health

Vitamin B12 has been proven to promote long-term brain health, with deficiencies in the vitamin linked to depression, dementia and other forms of mental impairment. Here we examine the benefits of vitamin B12 and how to ensure you are getting an adequate amount as part of a healthy diet.

The majority of people are not deficient in vitamin B12. The top, reliable sources of B12 can be found in animal proteins, including meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs. However, vitamin deficiencies can arise as aging stomachs lose the ability to absorb the nutrients from food. In order to absorb B12 naturally, stomach acid must have an adequate amount of the enzyme pepsin and the gastric protein, intrinsic factor, which allows vitamin B12 to be separated from the food source before absorption. Aging may lead to a gradual decrease in the number of acid-producing cells, a condition known as atrophic gastritis – it is estimated that between 10 and 30 percent of adults over 50 have too little stomach acid to absorb B12.

A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause an individual to act emotionally unstable or outside of their normal behaviors. Along with deficiencies in B vitamin folate, it can also lead to severe depression, dementia or other cognitive impairments. A lack of vitamin B12 can also result in an extreme lack of energy and changes in mood.

For individuals diagnosed with low B12 levels, high-dose injections of the vitamin can quickly reverse symptoms. Supplying vitamin B12 to individuals with B12 deficiency has also been shown to protect areas of the brain that are typically affected by Alzheimer’s disease, highlighting its importance in protecting the brain against symptoms of cognitive decline.

It can take years before major symptoms of B12 deficiency become apparent. If you are concerned about your B12 absorption, consult your primary physician to set-up a B12 test.

For individuals with low levels of B12, there are different ways to incorporate a greater amount of B12 into your diet. Dietary supplements or foods fortified with B12 can both help boost B12 levels, as they contain a synthetic version of B12 that is easily absorbed by the body because it bypasses the need for stomach acid. High-dose injections can also be offered in accordance with your physician’s recommendations.

Although it is good to be aware of the effects of B12 deficiency, it is important to remember that the majority of people are not affected by it. The Cognitive Therapeutics Team recommends focusing on a healthy lifestyle plan for long-term brain health, consisting of a balanced diet, 15 minutes of physical activity 3 times a week, mentally-stimulating activities and meditation to promote calm.


10 Facts You Need to Know to Promote and Harness Neuroplasticity

Due to the limitations of pharmacological approaches to dementia and other forms of cognitive decline, scientists are relying more on non-pharmacological treatment plans, such as cognitive therapy, as a way to help delay the onset and slow the progression of symptoms of cognitive decline. Non-pharmacological interventions are based on the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize connections in the brain, create new connections and even create new neurons under some circumstances. Generally, neuroplasticity occurs in two instances: as a result of learning and experience or a result of damage to the brain.

The Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is based heavily on the concept of neuroplasticity and takes advantage of the brain’s ability to create new connections by engaging 5 cognitive domains with activities. Below, we have compiled 10 important facts that you need to know in order to promote neuroplasticity in your day-to-day life for better brain health!

  1. Neuroplasticity is real, and it is more important than our genes. Neuroplasticity is a lifelong process and has far greater effects on our brain’s outcome than genes do.
  2. All physical exercise promotes brain function, but cardio is king. Exercising increases blood flow, brain volume and growth hormone levels, especially if it really gets the heart pumping. We recommend 20 to 30 minutes of exercise per day, four days a week.
  3. Mental stimulation helps build cognitive reserve. Cognitive reserve is the brain’s protective mechanism that helps delay symptoms of cognitive decline, so engaging the brain helps protect it over the long-term.
  4. Overall brain health depends upon working a variety of brain functions. It is not enough to engage only our memory or attention; we need an assortment of activities to keep our brains healthy, which is why the Method targets five domains.
  5. Routines don’t challenge the brain, so try something new or increase the level of difficulty. Activities should be challenging enough where they can be fun, but still engaging. Try alternating between Sudoku and crossword puzzles to work on and improve different skills.
  6. A bigger, more complex social network has been correlated with a bigger amygdala. This area of the brain is responsible for emotion and behavior. Those with bigger social circles are also less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness.
  7. A Mediterranean diet can improve brain health and has the potential to reduce shrinkage. The assortment of fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil have proven to protect the brain against cognitive decline.
  8. Chronic stress can block neuroplasticity. Under extreme stress, we have all noticed lapses in memory or attention to detail. It is important to promote calm and focus for optimal brain health.
  9. No one solution works! A multi-pronged approach works best, so include a healthy diet, exercise regimen, social schedule and mentally engaging activities in your plan.
  10. In addition, know your limits. A professional caregiver or Cognitive Therapeutics Interventionist can help you create a brain health plan that fits your unique needs and preferences!

To learn more about neuroplasticity and ways to proactively boost brain health, read The Brain Boost: A Practical Guide to Brain Health, one of the award-winning books in Home Care Assistance’s Healthy Longevity Series.


Potential Reversal of Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Dale Bredesen, professor at both the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and at the Easton Laboratories for Neurodegenerative Research at UCLA, announced that he may have found a potential treatment for the reversal of memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The push for a cure for Alzheimer’s is strong as over 5.4 million Americans currently live with the disease.

Published in the journal Aging, Bredesen and his research team studied ten people who were experiencing age-related memory loss. Nine of the ten participants had genetic mutations in the APOE4 gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease, putting them at high risk. Participants used a technique called metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration (MEND), a 36-point personalized regimen focused on a healthy diet, exercise routine, brain stimulation, sleep improvements, medication and vitamins for 5 months to 2 years.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans and neuropsychological testing, the team was able to assess the success of the customized programs for each individual. They found that the MEND technique drastically improved the lives of the participants: those that had to leave work due to their memory decline were able to return, and others who had reported struggling with work saw an improvement in performance.

The hippocampus, a critical brain region for learning and memory, often shrinks in individuals with Alzheimer’s. At the beginning of the study, one patient’s hippocampal volume was in the 17th percentile for his age range, but after following the MEND program for 10 months, this specific participant’s hippocampal volume increased drastically to the 75th percentile.

Health care professionals agree that a personalized approach to brain health is the best way to prevent and delay signs of cognitive decline. However, not all scientists support the MEND approach, as it includes treating conditions that could be associated with Alzheimer’s, such as inflammation, and incorporates supplements that are not well studied or do not require FDA approval.

Bredesen hopes to further prove that treating the underlying causes and mechanisms of the disease will help reverse symptoms. So far, his efforts have proved valid, though a larger sample size and longer study would further validate the effectiveness of the program.

In line with Bredesen’s approach, the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™ is a personalized, one-on-one program designed to keep aging minds sharp. The Method is customized to each client’s unique needs and offers a range of activities that are fun yet just challenging enough to keep the brain engaged, thereby possibly delaying symptoms of cognitive decline. The Method has been an integral part of Home Care Assistance’s approach to brain health for seniors over the past three years.

To learn more about the Method, visit today.


The Link Between Heart and Brain Health

Senior getting heart health check upThe Cognitive Therapeutics team has noted the link between heart and brain health in previous posts, such as “3 Tips to Control High Blood Pressure”, which highlights the link between high blood pressure and dementia. To continue the conversation, we are sharing a recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association that found a healthy heart may have major benefits for preventing cognitive decline associated with aging.

Researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University studied over 1,000 men and women with the average age of the participants being 72 years old. Participants underwent initial brain tests that assessed their memory and other cognitive abilities, followed by the completion of the same set of tests six years later. The research team also analyzed how well participants followed the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Simple Seven®”, a 7-part program designed to encourage the lifestyle choices that promote cardiovascular health. The 7 focuses of program include:

  • Avoiding Tobacco
  • Managing Weight Level
  • Engaging in Physical Activity
  • Eating a Healthy Diet
  • Monitoring Blood Pressure Levels
  • Controlling Cholesterol Levels
  • Reducing Glucose Levels

Of the 1000 volunteers, none met all seven goals and only 1 percent met six of the seven goals. Four percent met five goals, 14 percent met four goals and about 30 percent met three or two goals.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that participants with more ideal cardiovascular health factors had better brain health at the start of the study. The link was strongest between brain health and tobacco avoidance, ideal glucose levels or optimal weight levels. More ideal cardiovascular health factors were also associated with decreased cognitive decline over time.

Participants that didn’t achieve all seven goals still saw positive brain health benefits. Hannah Gardener, lead researcher of the study, recommends that individuals focus on improving a few areas at a time. “People shouldn’t feel discouraged if one or two [goals] feel out of reach,” she says.

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