Dementia is a progressive neurological condition, which means the symptoms get worse over time. A person with advanced dementia may become disconnected from their surroundings and lose the ability to communicate. One the first casualties of dementia is memory loss and it is also common to lose mental sharpness.
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Research into dementia has mainly focused on the initial warning signs.
The earlier dementia is spotted, the sooner people can take steps to delay the onset of dementia.
One study, reported by the Alzheimer’s Society, made a significant contribution to this field.
The study of more than 2,000 people participating in a memory and thinking test revealed indicators of Alzheimer’s disease up to 18 years before diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the UK.
Based on tests completed 13 to 18 years before the study ended, a lower score in a cognitive test was associated with an 85 percent greater risk of future dementia.
The findings suggest that the development of Alzheimer’s disease may begin many years earlier than expected before symptoms are recognised.
Commenting on the study’s results, Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Dementia often causes changes in the brain years before the symptoms become apparent.”
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He continued: “This study shows that there may be subtle indications of Alzheimer’s disease in thinking and memory as many as 18 years before a formal diagnosis could take place.
“This could mean there is a long window of opportunity for treatment in which we could one day halt or slow dementia.
“Although these tests cannot accurately predict who will develop dementia, they could potentially be used to identify people at higher risk.”
What lifestyle interventions can be taken to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s?
A number of healthy habits have been linked to slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s.
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According to Dr. Gad Marshall, associate medical director of clinical trials at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, exercise is one of the most promising.
“The most convincing evidence is that physical exercise helps prevent the development of Alzheimer’s or slow the progression in people who have symptoms,” said Dr. Marshall.
What does he recommend? “The recommendation is 30 minutes of moderately vigorous aerobic exercise, three to four days per week,” he said.
In fact, engaging in aerobic exercise may reduce your risk of dementia altogether.
Several prospective studies have looked at middle-aged people and the effects of physical exercise on their thinking and memory in later life.
Combining the results of 11 studies shows that regular exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia by about 30 percent.
For Alzheimer’s disease specifically, the risk was reduced by 45 percent.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, in the short term, aerobic exercise can also improve the performance of healthy adults on thinking tests.
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