Archives for January 2018

Coping with Late-Stage Alzheimer’s Disease

(NIA) When a person moves to the later stages of AD, caregiving may become even harder. This section offers ways to cope with changes that take place during severe or late-stage AD.

If caring for the person has become too much for you, read Finding Long-Term Care for a Person with Alzheimer’s.

When the Person with AD Can’t Move

If the person with AD can’t move around on his or her own, contact a home health aide, physical therapist, or nurse. Ask the doctor for a referral to one of these health professionals. They can show you how to move the person safely, such as changing his or her position in bed or in a chair.

Also, a physical therapist can show you how to move the person’s body joints using range-of-motion exercises. During these exercises, you hold the person’s arms or legs, one at a time, and move and bend it several times a day. Movement prevents stiffness of the arms, hands, and legs. It also prevents pressure or bedsores.

How to Make Someone with AD More Comfortable

Here are some ways to make the person with AD more comfortable:

  • Buy special mattresses and wedge-shaped seat cushions that reduce pressure sores. You can purchase these at a medical supply store or drugstore or online. Ask the home health aide, nurse, or physical therapist how to use the equipment.
  • Move the person to a different position at least every 2 hours.
  • Use a lap board to rest the person’s arms and support the upper body when he or she is sitting up.
  • Give the person something to hold, such as a wash cloth, while being moved. The person will be less likely to grab onto you or the furniture. If he or she is weak on one side, stand on the weak side to support the stronger side and help the person change positions.

How to Keep from Hurting Yourself When Moving a Person with AD

To keep from hurting yourself when moving someone with AD:

  • Know your strength when lifting or moving the person; don’t try to do too much. Also, be aware of how you position your body.
  • Bend at the knees and then straighten up by using your thigh muscles, not your back.
  • Keep your back straight, and don’t bend at the waist.
  • Hold the person as close as possible to avoid reaching away from your body.
  • Place one foot in front of the other, or space your feet comfortably apart for a wide base of support.
  • Use little steps to move the person from one seat to another. Don’t twist your body.
  • Use a transfer or “Posey” belt, shown above. You can buy this belt at a medical supply store or drugstore. To move the person, slide him or her to the edge of the chair or bed by wrapping the transfer belt around the person’s waist. Face the person and place your hands under the belt on either side of his or her waist. Then bend your knees, and pull up by using your thigh muscles to raise the person from a seated to a standing position.

How to Make Sure the Person Eats Well

In the later stages of AD, many people lose interest in food. You may begin to notice some changes in how or when the person eats.

He or she may not:

  • Be aware of mealtimes
  • Know when he or she has had enough food
  • Remember to cook
  • Eat enough different kinds of foods

This means the person may not be getting the foods or vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy. Here are some suggestions to help the person with late-stage AD eat better. Remember that these are just tips. Try different things and see what works best for the person.

You might try to:

  • Serve meals at the same time each day.
  • Make the eating area quiet. Turn off the TV, CD player, or radio.
  • Offer just one food at a time instead of filling the plate or table with too many things.
  • Use colorful plates so the person can see the food.
  • Control between-meal snacks. Lock the refrigerator door and food cabinets if necessary. Put masking tape near the top and/or bottom of the doors.
  • Make sure the person’s dentures are tight fitting. Loose dentures or dentures with bumps or cracks may cause choking or pain, making it hard to eat. Take poorly fitting dentures out until the person can get dentures that fit.
  • Let the doctor know if your family member loses a lot of weight, for example, if he or she loses 10 pounds in a month.

Here are specific suggestions about foods to eat and liquids to drink:

  • Give the person finger foods to eat such as cheese, small sandwiches, small pieces of chicken, fresh fruits, or vegetables. Sandwiches made with pita bread are easier to handle.
  • Give him or her high-calorie, healthy foods to eat or drink, such as protein milk shakes. You can buy high-protein drinks and powders at grocery stores, drugstores, or discount stores. Also, you can mix healthy foods in a blender and let the person drink his or her meal. Use diet supplements if he or she is not getting enough calories. Talk with the doctor or nurse about what kinds of supplements are best.
  • Try to use healthy fats in cooking, such as olive oil. Also, use extra cooking oil, butter, and mayonnaise to cook and prepare food if the person needs more calories. If the person has heart disease, check with the doctor about how much and what kinds of fat to use.
  • If the person has diabetes or high blood pressure, check with the doctor or a nutrition specialist about which foods to limit.
  • Have the person take a multivitamin—a tablet, capsule, powder, liquid, or injection that adds vitamins, minerals, and other important things to a person’s diet.
  • Serve bigger portions at breakfast because it’s the first meal of the day.

What to Do About Swallowing Problems

As AD progresses to later stages, the person may no longer be able to chew and swallow easily. This is a serious problem. If the person chokes on each bite of food, there is a chance that the food could go into the lungs. This can cause pneumonia, which can lead to death.

The following suggestions may help with swallowing:

  • Make sure you cut the food into small pieces and make it soft enough to eat.
  • Grind food or make it liquid using a blender or baby food grinder.
  • Offer soft foods, such as ice cream, milk shakes, yogurt, soups, applesauce, gelatin, or custard.
  • Don’t use a straw; it may cause more swallowing problems. Instead, have the person drink small sips from a cup.
  • Limit the amount of milk the person drinks if it tends to catch in the throat.
  • Give the person more cold drinks than hot drinks. Cold drinks are easier to swallow.
  • Don’t give the person thin liquids, such as coffee, tea, water, or broth, because they are hardest to swallow. You can buy Thick-It® at most pharmacies. You add Thick-It® to liquids to make them thicker. You also can use ice cream and sherbet to thicken liquids.

Here are some other ideas to help people swallow:

  • Don’t hurry the person. He or she needs time to chew and swallow each mouthful before taking another bite.
  • Don’t feed a person who is drowsy or lying down. He or she should be in an upright, sitting position during the meal and for at least 20 minutes after the meal.
  • Have the person keep his or her neck forward and chin down when swallowing.
  • Stroke (gently) the person’s neck in a downward motion and say, “swallow” to remind him or her to swallow.
  • Find out if the person’s pills can be crushed or taken in liquid form.

Helping the person with AD eat can be exhausting. Planning meals ahead and having the food ready can make this task a little easier for you. Also, remember that people with AD may not eat much at certain times and then feel more like eating at other times. It helps to make mealtime as pleasant and enjoyable as possible. But, no matter how well you plan, the person may not be hungry when you’re ready to serve food.

Dental, Skin, and Foot Problems

Dental, skin, and foot problems may take place in early and moderate stages of AD, but most often happen during late-stage AD. Please see Dental problems for more information.

Body Jerking

Myoclonus is a condition that sometimes happens with AD. The person’s arms, legs, or whole body may jerk. This can look like a seizure, but the person doesn’t pass out. Tell the doctor right away if you see these signs. The doctor may prescribe one or more medicines to help reduce symptoms.

Skin Problems

Once the person stops walking or stays in one position too long, he or she may get skin or pressure sores.

To prevent skin or pressure sores, you can:

  • Move the person at least every 2 hours if he or she is sitting up.
  • Move the person at least every hour if he or she is lying down.
  • Put a 4-inch foam pad on top of the mattress.
  • Check to make sure that the foam pad is comfortable for the person. Some people find these pads too hot for sleeping or may be allergic to them. If the foam pad is a problem, you can get pads filled with gel, air, or water.
  • Check to make sure the person sinks a little when lying down on the pad. Also, the pad should fit snugly around his or her body.

To check for pressure sores:

  • Look at the person’s heels, hips, buttocks, shoulders, back, and elbows for redness or sores.
  • Ask the doctor what to do if you find pressure sores.
  • Try to keep the person off the affected area.

Foot Care

It’s important for the person with AD to take care of his or her feet. If the person can’t, you will need to do it.

Here’s what to do:

  • Soak the person’s feet in warm water; wash the feet with a mild soap; and check for cuts, corns, and calluses.
  • Put lotion on the feet so that the skin doesn’t become dry and cracked.
  • Cut or file their toenails.
  • Talk to a foot care doctor, called a podiatrist, if the person has diabetes or sores on the feet.

For More Information About Coping with Late-Stage Alzheimer’s

NIA Alzheimer’s and related Dementias Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center
1-800-438-4380 (toll-free)

The National Institute on Aging’s ADEAR Center offers information and free print publications about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias for families, caregivers, and health professionals. ADEAR Center staff answer telephone, email, and written requests and make referrals to local and national resources.

Eldercare Locator
1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)

National Respite Locator Service

Aging Life Care Association

Alzheimer’s Association
1-800-272-3900 (toll-free, 24/7)
1-866-403-3073 (TTY/toll-free)

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America
1-866-232-8484 (toll-free)

Hospice Foundation of America

National Association for Home Care and Hospice

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization


Content reviewed: May 18, 2017

National Institute on Aging


Make Health Your Resolution in 2018

( Make 2018 your healthiest year yet! Add these tips to your resolution list to boost your health and well-being!

Six Tips for 2018

  1. Make an appointment for a check-up, vaccination, or screening. Regular oral and medical exams and tests can help find problems before they start. They also can help find problems early, when your chances for treatment and cure are better.
  2. Wash your hands often with soap and water to prevent the spread of infection and illness. Handwashing involves five simple and effective steps – wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry. Learn more about when and how to wash your hands.
  3. Make healthy food choices. A healthy eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. It also includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts, and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  4. Get active! Start small – try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further from your destination. Consider mall walking if the weather is cold or icy. Adults should get at least 2½ hours a week of moderate-intensity physical activity.
  5. Be smokefree. If you are ready to quit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-DÉJELO-YA (1-855-335-3569 for Spanish speakers) for free resources, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to other resources where you live. Need inspiration? Check out these videos from the Tips From Former Smokers® campaign.
  6. Get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases and conditions—such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Adults need seven or more hours per night.


Alzheimer’s Drug Turns Back Clock in Powerhouse of Cell

(Salk Institute for Biological Studies) Salk researchers identify the molecular target of J147, which is nearing clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

The experimental drug J147 is something of a modern elixir of life; it’s been shown to treat Alzheimer’s disease and reverse aging in mice and is almost ready for clinical trials in humans. Now, Salk scientists have solved the puzzle of what, exactly, J147 does. In a paper published January 7, 2018, in the journal Aging Cell, they report that the drug binds to a protein found in mitochondria, the energy-generating powerhouses of cells. In turn, they showed, it makes aging cells, mice and flies appear more youthful.

“This really glues together everything we know about J147 in terms of the link between aging and Alzheimer’s,” says Dave Schubert, head of Salk’s Cellular Neurobiology Laboratory and the senior author on the new paper.

“Finding the target of J147 was also absolutely critical in terms of moving forward with clinical trials.”

Schubert’s group developed J147 in 2011, after screening for compounds from plants with an ability to reverse the cellular and molecular signs of aging in the brain. J147 is a modified version of a molecule found in the curry spice curcumin. In the years since, the researchers have shown that the compound reverses memory deficits, potentiates the production of new brain cells, and slows or reverses Alzheimer’s progression in mice. However, they didn’t know how J147 worked at the molecular level.

In the new work, led by Schubert and Salk Research Associate Josh Goldberg, the team used several approaches to home in on what J147 is doing. They identified the molecular target of J147 as a mitochondrial protein called ATP synthase that helps generate ATP-the cell’s energy currency-within mitochondria. They showed that by manipulating its activity, they could protect neuronal cells from multiple toxicities associated with the aging brain. Moreover, ATP synthase has already been shown to control aging in C. elegans worms and flies.

“We know that age is the single greatest contributing factor to Alzheimer’s, so it is not surprising that we found a drug target that’s also been implicated in aging,” says Goldberg, the paper’s first author.

Further experiments revealed that modulating activity of ATP synthase with J147 changes the levels of a number of other molecules-including levels of ATP itself-and leads to healthier, more stable mitochondria throughout aging and in disease.

“I was very surprised when we started doing experiments with how big of an effect we saw,” says Schubert. “We can give this to old mice and it really elicits profound changes to make these mice look younger at a cellular and molecular level.”

The results, the researchers say, are not only encouraging for moving the drug forward as an Alzheimer’s treatment, but also suggest that J147 may be useful in other age-associated diseases as well.

“People have always thought that you need separate drugs for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke” says Schubert. “But it may be that by targeting aging we can treat or slow down many pathological conditions that are old-age-associated.”

The team is already performing additional studies on the molecules that are altered by J147’s effect on the mitochondrial ATP synthase-which could themselves be new drug targets. J147 has completed the FDA-required toxicology testing in animals, and funds are being sought to initiate phase 1 clinical trials in humans.



Journal Reference:

Joshua Goldberg et al. The mitochondrial ATP synthase is a shared drug target for aging and dementiaAging Cell, 2018 DOI: 10.1111/acel.12715

Copyright 2018 Salk Institute for Biological Studies

When the Caregiver Needs Care: the Plight of Vulnerable Caregivers

2002 Mar;92(3):409-13.

When the caregiver needs care: the plight of vulnerable caregivers.

Navaie-Waliser M1, Feldman PH, Gould DA, Levine C, Kuerbis AN, Donelan K



This study examined the characteristics, activities, and challenges of high-risk informal caregivers.


Telephone interviews were conducted with a nationally representative cross-section of 1002 informal caregivers. Vulnerable caregivers with poor health or a serious health condition were compared with nonvulnerable caregivers.


Thirty-six percent of caregivers were vulnerable. Compared with nonvulnerable caregivers, vulnerable caregivers were more likely to have difficulty providing care, to provide higher-intensity care, to report that their physical health had suffered since becoming a caregiver, to be aged 65 years or older, to be married, and to have less than 12 years of education.


Reliance on informal caregivers without considering the caregiver‘s ability to provide care can create a stressful and potentially unsafe environment for the caregiver and the care recipient.



Does Cognitive Training Prevent Cognitive Decline?

2017 Dec 19. doi: 10.7326/M17-1531. [Epub ahead of print]

Does Cognitive Training Prevent Cognitive Decline?: A Systematic Review.

Butler M1, McCreedy E1, Nelson VA1, Desai P1, Ratner E1, Fink HA1, Hemmy LS1, McCarten JR1, Barclay TR1, Brasure M1, Davila H1, Kane RL1.



Structured activities to stimulate brain function-that is, cognitive training exercises-are promoted to slow or prevent cognitive decline, including dementia, but their effectiveness is highly debated.


To summarize evidence on the effects of cognitive training on cognitive performance and incident dementia outcomes for adults with normal cognition or mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Data Sources

Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and PsycINFO through July 2017, supplemented by hand-searches.

Study Selection

Trials (published in English) lasting at least 6 months that compared cognitive training with usual care, waitlist, information, or attention controls in adults without dementia.

Data Extraction

Single-reviewer extraction of study characteristics confirmed by a second reviewer; dual-reviewer risk-of-bias assessment; consensus determination of strength of evidence. Only studies with low or medium risk of bias were analyzed.

Data Synthesis

Of 11 trials with low or medium risk of bias, 6 enrolled healthy adults with normal cognition and 5 enrolled adults with MCI. Trainings for healthy older adults were mostly computer based; those for adults with MCI were mostly held in group sessions. The MCI trials used attention controls more often than trials with healthy populations. For healthy older adults, training improved cognitive performance in the domain trained but not in other domains (moderate-strength evidence). Results for populations with MCI suggested no effect of training on performance (low-strength and insufficient evidence). Evidence for prevention of cognitive decline or dementia was insufficient. Adverse events were not reported.


Heterogeneous interventions and outcome measures; outcomes that mostly assessed test performance rather than global function or dementia diagnosis; potential publication bias.


In older adults with normal cognition, training improves cognitive performance in the domain trained. Evidence regarding prevention or delay of cognitive decline or dementia is insufficient.

Primary Funding Source

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.


Copyright © 2017 American College of Physicians. All Rights Reserved.


Anxiety: An Early Indicator of Alzheimer’s Disease?

(Brigham and Women’s Hospital) A new study suggests an association between elevated amyloid beta levels and the worsening of anxiety symptoms.

A new study suggests an association between elevated amyloid beta levels and the worsening of anxiety symptoms. The findings support the hypothesis that neuropsychiatric symptoms could represent the early manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that causes the decline of cognitive function and the inability to carry out daily life activities. Past studies have suggested depression and other neuropsychiatric symptoms may be predictors of AD’s progression during its “preclinical” phase, during which time brain deposits of fibrillar amyloid and pathological tau accumulate in a patient’s brain. This phase can occur more than a decade before a patient’s onset of mild cognitive impairment. Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital examined the association of brain amyloid beta and longitudinal measures of depression and depressive symptoms in cognitively normal, older adults.

Their findings, published today by The American Journal of Psychiatry, suggest that higher levels of amyloid beta may be associated with increasing symptoms of anxiety in these individuals. These results support the theory that neuropsychiatric symptoms could be an early indicator of AD.

“Rather than just looking at depression as a total score, we looked at specific symptoms such as anxiety. When compared to other symptoms of depression such as sadness or loss of interest, anxiety symptoms increased over time in those with higher amyloid beta levels in the brain,” said first author Nancy Donovan, MD, a geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“This suggests that anxiety symptoms could be a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease prior to the onset of cognitive impairment. If further research substantiates anxiety as an early indicator, it would be important for not only identifying people early on with the disease, but also, treating it and potentially slowing or preventing the disease process early on.”

As anxiety is common in older people, rising anxiety symptoms may prove to be most useful as a risk marker in older adults with other genetic, biological or clinical indicators of high AD risk.

Researchers derived data from the Harvard Aging Brain Study, an observational study of older adult volunteers aimed at defining neurobiological and clinical changes in early Alzheimer’s disease. The participants included 270 community dwelling, cognitively normal men and women, between 62 and 90 years old, with no active psychiatric disorders. Individuals also underwent baseline imaging scans commonly used in studies of Alzheimer’s disease, and annual assessments with the 30-item Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), an assessment used to detect depression in older adults.

The team calculated total GDS scores as well as scores for three clusters symptoms of depression: apathy-anhedonia, dysphoria, and anxiety. These scores were looked at over a span of five years.

From their research, the team found that higher brain amyloid beta burden was associated with increasing anxiety symptoms over time in cognitively normal older adults. The results suggest that worsening anxious-depressive symptoms may be an early predictor of elevated amyloid beta levels – and, in turn AD — and provide support for the hypothesis that emerging neuropsychiatric symptoms represent an early manifestation of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

Donovan notes further longitudinal follow-up is needed to determine whether these escalating depressive symptoms give rise to clinical depression and dementia stages of Alzheimer’s disease over time.


Journal Reference:

Nancy J. Donovan, Joseph J. Locascio, Gad A. Marshall, Jennifer Gatchel, Bernard J. Hanseeuw, Dorene M. Rentz, Keith A. Johnson, Reisa A. Sperling. Longitudinal Association of Amyloid Beta and Anxious-Depressive Symptoms in Cognitively Normal Older AdultsAmerican Journal of Psychiatry, 2018; appi.ajp.2017.1 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.17040442

Copyright © 2018 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)


What is the Most Common Type of Dementia?

(BrightFocus Foundation) This article discusses the most common type of dementia, resulting in 60 – 80 percent of all cases of dementia diagnoses.

Andrew* first noticed his mother’s forgetfulness at her 75th birthday party. She did her best to hide her difficulty, but it was obvious to him that she was having trouble remembering the names of several more distant cousins who had come to celebrate with her. Had her husband still been alive, he would have covered for her by greeting everyone by their names in order to remind her.

Thinking back, Andrew realized that his mother had been having noticeable trouble during most of the previous year. Her reaction after her husband’s death was more than simple grief. She was forgetting details of things that had happened. She seemed to be having more trouble using her microwave and food processor. She had misplaced some important bills and then thrown them into the garbage by mistake. She sometimes called Andrew to ask questions about things he’d already discussed with her.

By the time she approached her 76th birthday, Andrew was in the habit of stopping by her house on a weekly basis, helping with chores, and making sure the garbage was put out and the refrigerator was kept clean. It was pretty clear that he needed to help his mother get additional support in her home if she was to continue to live there. He also considered involving her primary care physician or a memory disorders clinic. But he wondered whether there was any point. After all, wasn’t his mother just going to go through a bunch of tests and then be told she has Alzheimer’s disease, and there isn’t anything that will help?

*The names and details in this story are composite and fictitious. They do not identify specific individuals.

The answer to the question “Is Alzheimer’s disease the most common type of dementia?” is “yes.” Alzheimer’s disease is indeed the most common cause of serious cognitive problems among older adults. It is one of the major causes of death, and it is one of the costliest of diseases for our health care system. As yet, we have no cure.

But there is so much more to say about this matter!

One of my professors in medical school used to remind us that there are many patients who cannot be cured, but few who cannot be helped. Help for a person with Alzheimer’s disease includes attention to their safety and comfort, medical care of conditions that might further interfere with their best level of functioning, and support of their caregiving system.

Recent advances in neuroimaging have made it possible for us to recognize Alzheimer’s disease even before severe cognitive symptoms have developed, and at the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s disease there may be opportunities to help delay or prevent worsening. Medical disease management, physical activity, good nutrition, cognitive stimulation, social engagement, stress reduction, and healthy sleep habits can all promote brain health.

At the earliest stage of cognitive symptoms, participation in clinical trials may offer some affected individuals an opportunity to delay the effects of the disease—and many possible therapies are currently in testing.

It is also important to keep in mind that although Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, it is definitely not the only one. A recent study called IDEAS (“Imaging Dementia, Evidence for Amyloid Scanning”) reported that nearly a third of patients referred for amyloid scanning with a likely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease actually had a different condition altogether.

Vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease dementia, alcohol-related dementia, dementia related to HIV infection, and dementia associated with head trauma are other important causes of major neurocognitive disorder. They are not all curable, but various treatment approaches can reduce symptoms, reduce caregiver burden, and improve quality of life. In addition, there are reversible causes of cognitive symptoms that may look just like dementia yet improve considerably when treated correctly. Adverse effects of inappropriate medications or of toxic substances, depression, sleep disorders, and some infections are among the many treatable causes of cognitive symptoms.

For Andrew and anyone in his situation, I would suggest seeking the help of a physician trained to evaluate and treat dementia. Sometimes this can result in discovery of a curable condition. Almost always, it can result in getting specific and useful advice and assistance.

By James M. Ellison, MD, MPH,  Swank Memory Care Center, Christiana Care Health System


Copyright 2018. BrightFocus is a tax-exempt nonprofit organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of the United States.


Walk 4,000 Steps Every Day to Boost Brain Function

(MedicalNewsToday) Recent research led by the University of California, Los Angeles shows that taking a short walk each day can help to keep the brain healthy, supporting the overall resilience of cognitive functioning.

As we grow older, memory problems can begin to set in. These could be a natural part of aging and a minor annoyance, but in some cases, the issues may indicate mild cognitive impairment and could even develop into dementia.

Regardless of how mild or severe these memory problems may be, they are definitely distressing and can affect an individual’s quality of life.

New research from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that there is a relatively easy way of keeping your brain in top shape as you grow older: take a moderately long walk every day.

This could boost your attention, the efficiency with which you process information, and other cognitive skills, say first study author Prabha Siddarth and colleagues.

The research findings were recently published the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Cortical Thickness to Assess Cognitive Health

Siddarth and team initially recruited 29 adults aged 60 and over, of which 26 completed the study over a 2-year period. The participants were split into two distinct groups:

  • a low physical activity group, comprising people who walked 4,000 or fewer steps each day
  • a high physical activity group, made up of people who walked more than 4,000 steps per day

All the participants reported a degree of memory complaints at baseline, but none of them had a dementia diagnosis.

In order to explore the potential effect of physical activity on cognitive ability, the researchers used MRI to determine the volume and thickness of the hippocampus, which is a brain region associated with memory formation and storage, and spatial orientation.

Previous research suggested that the size and volume of this brain region can tell us something about cognitive health. For instance, a higher hippocampal volume has been shown to indicate more effective memory consolidation.

“Few studies have looked at how physical activity affects the thickness of brain structures,” says Siddarth.

“Brain thickness,” she notes, “a more sensitive measure than volume, can track subtle changes in the brain earlier than volume and can independently predict cognition, so this is an important question.”

Walk More Every Day for a Resilient Brain

In addition to the MRI scans, the participants also underwent a set of neuropsychological tests, to consolidate the assessment of their cognitive capacity.

It was found that those in the high physical activity group — who walked more than 4,000 steps (approximately 3 kilometers) each day — had thicker hippocampi, as well as thicker associated brain regions, when compared with that of the those falling under the low physical activity category.

The highly active group was also found to have better attention, speedier information processing abilities, and more efficient executive function, which includes working memory. Working memory is the resource that we tap into on a daily basis when we need to make spontaneous decisions.

However, Siddarth and colleagues reported no significant differences between the high activity and low activity groups when it came to memory recall.

The next step from here, the researchers suggest, should be to undertake a longitudinal analysis in order to test the relationship between physical activity and cognitive ability over time.

They also note the need to better understand the mechanisms behind cognitive decline in relation to hippocampal atrophy.


By Maria Cohut

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