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What’s new in improving brain health and challenging dementia?

Every week we receive news in our inbox around identifying risk factors in mental health and possible ways to avoid them.

Here’s our round-up of recent research and thoughts around cognitive health in general and dementia in particular.

Causes and diagnosis

Widely reported in the media was the story that researchers in Canada had found that talking speed could be linked to brain health and dementia. A slowdown down in speech could be a more significant factor than difficulty in finding words, which is actually common as we age. The discovery could help in early diagnosis, though not yet with treatment.

Living in a disadvantaged neighbourhood could be associated with brain ageing and a higher risk of early dementia, suggests a study looking particularly at data from two New Zealand studies.

Millions of Americans with mild cognitive impairment are being undiagnosed, says a study of Medicare data relating to 65 year olds and later. The report suggests that mild cognitive impairment can have symptoms such as losing the ability to remember recent events and appointments, make sound decisions, and master complex tasks. Treatment might be easily available if provided early enough, especially if symptoms can be linked to factors such as medication side effects, thyroid dysfunction of vitamin B12 deficiency. And with risk factors similar to those for cardiovascular disease, management of blood pressure and cholesterol can help reduce the possibility of progression.

Reducing risk

Yoga can help with cognition and memory in those older women who have a variant gene that puts them more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, by reducing the number of contributing factors and slowing down the onset of symptoms. Women in the test group were over 50 and had self-reported cognitive decline. They were also either on cholesterol or high blood pressure meds, diagnosed with diabetes, or had recently had a heart attack. The group that followed a course of Kundalini yoga training experienced a significant boost to their cognition – more so than the group doing memory exercises.

Other research has found that a daily fibre supplement might help to improve brain function. The study looked at the gut microbiome, which is attracting a great deal of interest at the moment, and considered whether this might influence brain health. Over a 12-week period those taking plant fibre supplements – inulin and FOS – appeared to improve their memory and thinking in tests. The researchers hope that this new focus could help unlock new approaches to helping people live more healthily for longer.

Before even contemplating supplements, it’s now suggested that a balanced diet can help cognitive function and brain structure as well as physical and mental health. A study found that a healthy, balanced diet with a mix of foods from multiple categories supported better brain health, cognitive function and mental health than others. The Mediterranean diet, which promotes fish, dark leafy vegetables and fresh fruits, nuts seeds and some meats such as chicken, but limits red meat, fats and sugars, has been found to improve cognition and low levels of beta-amyloid, which is a feature of brain damage occurring in Alzheimer’s.


While there is much valuable and reliable research out there, investigators are also warning that fraud and misconduct are continuing apace in Alzheimer’s research, undermining genuine work to understand and treat the disease. Time and money are being wasted in pursuing false trails in an areas where research is well funded and the potential for commercial solutions is tempting.

Practical help on day-to-day living

In other news, the creator of a dementia debit card and mobile app has won investment from the entrepreneurs on the UK TV Dragons’ Den programme. The card and app help those who find managing money confusing to access their own money while protecting them from  overspending in the wrong places or falling prey to scammers.

Photo by Jaspinder Singh on Unsplash

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