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Healthy Lifestyles May Enhance Cognitive Function and Deter Dementia: The Rush Memory and Aging Project

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Ayanna Amadi
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Healthy Lifestyles May Enhance Cognitive Function and Deter Dementia: The Rush Memory and Aging Project

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Unpacking the Findings from the Rush Memory and Aging Project

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An insightful study from the Rush Memory and Aging Project has shed new light on the role of lifestyle in cognitive aging and dementia risk. According to the study led by Dr. Klodian Dhana of Rush University Medical Center, older adults who adhered to healthier lifestyles exhibited superior cognitive function, even amidst the presence of Alzheimer's or other dementia-related pathologies.

Interestingly, the research discovered that a 1-point increase in a healthy lifestyle score was linked with enhanced cognitive performance near death. These lifestyle scores ranged from 0 to 5 points, with higher scores signaling healthier lifestyle choices. They were based on factors such as adherence to diet, cognitive activity, exercise, smoking habits, and alcohol intake.

Moreover, the study found an association between a higher lifestyle score and a lower beta-amyloid load in the brain. This suggests a potential cognitive benefit for individuals with dementia-related pathologies. Consequently, these findings underscore the significant role of lifestyle in dementia risk and cognitive aging and call for more well-structured clinical trials to validate these results.

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Healthy Lifestyle as a Buffer Against Dementia

According to the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a higher lifestyle score was associated with better cognitive function near death, independent of the Alzheimer's disease pathology burden. The global cognitive score was derived from various standardized tests and brain pathology measures, including beta-amyloid load, phosphorylated tau tangles, vascular brain pathologies, and others.

A healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition, regular exercise, and other factors, may provide a cognitive reserve that buffers against negative changes in the brain. This resilience allows older individuals to maintain cognitive abilities despite the typical signs of dementia. Notably, each one-point increase in a person's 'lifestyle score' was associated with a rise in their 'global cognitive score' at the end of life.

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The Cognitive Benefits of a Healthy Lifestyle

Participants with top marks in five different lifestyle categories had lower levels of beta-amyloid in the brain and higher cognitive performance. The study compared lifestyle data to various measures of brain pathology, including levels of beta-amyloid, tau tangles, and signs of vascular brain damage. Remarkably, the cognitive benefits of a healthy lifestyle persisted regardless of the existence of any neurological conditions.

The MIND diet, a diet designed for brain health, may also play a significant role. Greater adherence to the MIND diet was found to be protective of dementia in several cohorts. The diet was associated with improved global cognition and episodic memory, although evidence for other brain outcomes remains mixed or limited.

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Implications and Future Directions

The Rush University Medical Center study concludes that lifestyle may provide cognitive benefits even for people who have begun to accumulate dementia-related pathologies. This study implies that we can potentially prevent or delay the onset of dementia and improve cognitive outcomes by modifying our lifestyle and diet.

The study also prompts the need for more well-designed clinical trials to establish concrete evidence. As we continue to unravel the complex relationship between lifestyle, cognitive aging, and dementia risk, it remains clear that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is more critical than ever.

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