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Clinical trial shows offering health guidance to people in later life improves brain function

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A combined approach involving exercise, diet, cognitive training, social activities and management of heart health can significantly improve memory.

This is according to a comprehensive two-year clinical trial published in The Lancet.

The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER) research, carried out at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland, involved 1,260 people aged 60 to 77. The participants were split into two randomised groups; one received simple health advice, the other half received in-depth guidance about nutrition, physical exercise, cognitive training and social activities, and management of vascular risk factors.

After two years, the group who had received the in-depth guidance and advice about healthy living demonstrated significantly better results on a range of cognitive examinations, including reasoning and speed of brain processing. The study plans to follow up with participants after seven years to reassess progress.

Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society said:

‘The message that you can preserve brain health through healthy living, exercise and keeping mentally active is a very positive one. As shown in this trial, giving people a helping hand with looking after their health in later life has a significant impact on several brain functions including attention and thought processing speed. This highlights the value of widespread initiatives to improve public health.

‘However, we need to learn more about how these healthy living choices can protect the brain in the longer term before we know for sure how they can ward off dementia. It will therefore be interesting to see the results of the planned follow-up after seven years to see if there are fewer cases of dementia among the study participants. In the meantime, the best evidence suggests that taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and not smoking is the best way for you to reduce your risk of dementia.’

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