ANU study finds lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of dementia

Exercise, diet and brain training shown to combat Alzheimer’s disease.

Lifestyle changes could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, even for people already showing cognitive decline, new research has found.

Australian National University (ANU) PhD candidate Mitchell McMaster found changes to diet, exercise and brain training, reduced dementia risk for people over 65 experiencing early signs of Alzheimer's, which is the most common cause of dementia. 

"It looks like you can reduce your risk of Alzheimer's, even when you are at an older age and experiencing cognitive decline," Mr McMaster said. 

"It is a really good indication that if you modify your lifestyle there is still hope to reduce dementia risk, which is a really exciting finding for this field of study."  

A group of 119 participants showing signs of cognitive decline undertook involved four educational modules covering dementia and lifestyle risk factors, Mediterranean diet, physical activity, and cognitive engagement. 

Participants were told to implement this information into their own lifestyle.

Of the group, 57 received additional support, including dietitian sessions, an exercise physiologist session, and online brain training.

After six months, those who were given the additional guidance experienced a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and improvement in cognitive abilities compared with the 62 participants who were not given the extra support.    

"People who reported having cognitive decline or mild symptoms relating to Alzheimer's disease were able to turn it around with active lifestyle changes relating to exercise, a healthy diet and brain training," Mr McMaster said. 

"This study really confirms that for those already experiencing cognitive decline it's never too late to make some positive changes to your lifestyle to reduce your risk of dementia.

"Through greater research and investigation into this area, we could see some fantastic developments for the future of Alzheimer's prevention."  

Mr McMaster’s PhD scholarship was supported by the Dementia Australia Research Foundation, alongside Neuroscience Research Australia.  

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.