Memory loss afflicts millions as they age, ranging from benign forgetfulness to devastating illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease. While no cure exists, emerging science suggests we may be able to substantially reduce our risk through lifestyle changes and even regain some lost function.
Exercise and Cognitive Training Strengthen Connections
Physical and mental fitness appear key to maintaining a sharp memory during aging. Activities that engage the brain build cognitive reserve, the brain’s resilience against damage.
“Exercise is one of the best ways to keep your memory sharp,” said Dr. Yakeel Quiroz of Harvard Medical School. Aerobic exercise promotes growth of new brain cells and blood vessels, while weight training triggers release of growth factors. Dancing integrates physical, cognitive and socially stimulating activity.
|Aerobic (walking, cycling)
|Promotes neuron and blood vessel growth
|Releases growth factors into the brain
|Combines physical, cognitive, and social activity
Even simple, everyday activities can benefit the brain if they break routines and force adaptive thinking. Crossword puzzles make the brain work in new ways, as do learning a new skill or language. Actively interacting with challenging material builds cognitive resilience.
Targeting Plaques and Tangles
Alzheimer’s disease ravages memory function via accumulation of plaques and tangles in the brain. Research targeting these directly holds promise for detection and intervention.
The newly approved drug lecanemab clears amyloid plaques. In clinical trials, the drug modestly slowed memory decline by 27% over 18 months. Patients experienced side effects like brain swelling and bleeding. While not a cure, the drug signals that removing plaques can impact Alzheimer’s disease progression.
Other therapeutic targets include tau tangles and vascular dysfunction contributing to dementia. Future treatments may combine medications, lifestyle changes, and even focused ultrasound to break up plaques and tangles.
Blood Tests To Predict Risk
One barrier to treating Alzheimer’s disease lies in detecting onset before irreversible brain damage occurs. New blood tests can identify elevated levels of amyloid protein and early neurological changes, predicting dementia risk 10-15 years in advance.
Widespread screening would allow early intervention, though costs remain prohibitive for now. “Once costs come down, screening could be invaluable if more effective treatments are developed,” said James Hendrix of the Alzheimer’s Association.
The Future: Prevention Over Treatment
While research progresses on treatments, experts emphasize prevention will likely hold the greatest promise for substantially reducing dementia risk.
“It will be difficult to successfully treat Alzheimer’s disease once neurological damage has occurred,” said Dr. Richard Lipton of the Einstein Aging Study. “Our best hope is to intervene early and reduce risk factors before memory starts failing.”
Emerging science confirms that a significant portion of dementias are preventable through positive lifestyle changes. Healthy diet, regular exercise, cognitive stimulation, stress reduction, and good sleep hygiene offer a holistic approach nearly anyone can adopt to promote lifelong brain health.
Implementing prevention early and broadly could make devastating memory loss far less common, allowing millions to retain purpose and independence through old age. Policy changes emphasizing brain health promotion and research could affect generations to come.
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