A review of published research has found that mental exercises — including computer-based training programs and one-on-one cognitive instruction in memory and reasoning — can help to stave off dementia in older people.
The findings, which are based on a review of 32 published studies on the topic involving some 25, 000 people, also determined there is little evidence that drugs, herbal products, or vitamin supplements help prevent age-related cognitive decline.
"This review provides some evidence to help clinicians and their patients address what strategies might prevent cognitive decline," said Raza Naqvi, M.D., a University of Toronto doctor and lead author of the review conducted at St. Michael's Hospital.
"We encourage researchers to consider easily accessible tools such as crossword puzzles and sudoko that have not been rigorously studied," he added. "The studies in this review that assessed cognitive exercises used exercises that were both labor- and resource-intensive, and thus may not be applicable to most of our patients."
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Mild cognitive impairment — including an erosion of memory, judgment, and decision-making skills — affects 10-25 percent of people over age 70, researchers noted. The annual rate of decline into dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, is about 10 percent.
The new analysis found no strong evidence that cognitive impairment is affected by drug treatments such as cholinesterase inhibitors that were developed to improve the effectiveness of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that assists memory, thought, and judgment.
In addition, the studies offered only slight evidence that herbal supplements such as gingko, vitamins, or fatty acids such as vitamin B6 or omega-3 fatty acids can improve cognitive functions.
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