Results from the first ever randomized controlled trial of its kind shows that providing older people at risk of dementia with healthy eating assistance, brain training, exercise, and management of metabolic and vascular risk factors slows down cognitive decline. The study, entitled the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) was recently published in journal The Lancet.
The research team led by Professor Miia Kivipelto from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, and University of Eastern Finland examined the comprehensive FINGER program’s effects on brain function. The program is designed to address the most relevant risk factors for age-related dementia, including heart health and high body-mass index.
A total of 1,260 Finnish people at risk of dementia aged between 60 and 77 years took part in the study. Of these, half were randomly assigned to an intervention group, and the other to a control group that only received health advice.
Participants in the intervention group had to participate in meetings over a period of two years with health professionals, and were given comprehensive advice on how to maintain a healthy diet, a comprehensive exercise program and management of metabolic and vascular risk factors.
At two years of follow-up, the participants were assessed using the Neuropsychological Test Battery (NTB). Higher scores on the NTB correspond to better mental functioning. Compared to the control group, participants in the intervention group scored 25% higher on NTB. In executive memory these differences were even more pronounced, with scores of 83% higher in the intervention group, and processing speed was 150% higher compared to the control group. Researchers also found a significant difference in memory improvement between the intervention group and the control group.
The researchers will follow participants for seven years in order to understand if the reduced cognitive decline observed in this trial is followed by diminish levels of dementia and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and potential underlying mechanisms in the cause of brain dysfunction in AD.
Professor Kivipelto said in a recent news release “Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health, and fitness. However, our study is the first large randomized controlled trial to show that an intensive programme aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia.”