By DR. VICTOR S. SIERPINA

Several lines of research have shown that certain activities support cognitive function in the aging brain. A local resource that provides many of these is University of Texas Medical Branch’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

Here, participants 55 and older engage in socialization, physical exercise and mentally challenging, creative learning tasks. One class activity at OLLI that has been widely studied using functional MRI and other validated outcome measures is a 12-minute exercise called Kirtan Kriya yoga. Taught by yoga instructor Jim Turner, this simple repeated set of words and finger positions has been found to improve memory and mood, affect brain activity, sleep and gene expression. See the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation website (www.alzheimersprevention.org) for more on this simple, but novel, and promising technique.

Dr. Dale Bredesen at the University of California Los Angeles developed a program called MEND — metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration, in which a group of subjects with increased risk for AD due to an ApoE genotype actually showed improvement. Novel personalized programs targeted a range of metabolic factors such as glucose metabolism, homocysteine, gluten sensitivity, hormone balance, lipid management, adequate sleep, stress management, exercise, along with individualized combinations of melatonin, vitamins B12, D and E, fish oil (DHA), CoQ10, curcumin and Ashwaganda.

Through neuropsychological and MRI testing, both subjective and objective improvements were found over a period of six months or less. Bredesen reasons that many other chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and bone health all use multiple inputs such as in the MEND program to slow or reverse the disease. Management of cognitive changes would be expected to be equally complex. It is unlikely that a single target molecule, pathological change, vaccine or silver bullet drug will be the answer to this complex problem.

A study by Dr. Martha Morris at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago is the MIND diet — Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This study combined two commonly prescribed cardiovascular diets.
The MIND diet, which combines the Mediterranean and DASH diet, specifies leafy greens six times a week, berries three times a week, and nuts five times a week. It has been associated with a slower rate of cognitive decline equivalent to 7.5 years of younger age among the participants in the top third of MIND diet scores compared with the lowest third. The authors concluded that even modest changes in diet can slow or reduce progression to Alzheimer’s.

The Center for the Future of Aging at the Milken Institute think tank further recommends:

1. Embracing technology to increase connection and social networks;

2. Connecting more closely with your family;

3. Welcoming aging with a positive attitude;

4. Being outgoing, sticking to goals, trying new experiences and laughing regularly;

5. Having a sense of purpose and setting new goals; and

6. Maintaining a positive, hopeful and optimistic outlook.

So while we are a long way from a key to unlocking Alzheimer’s prevention, numerous studies of lifestyle, nutrition and mind-body therapies continue to show promise. Many are just common sense care of our cardiovascular system. Also very important are those things that enrich our relationships, personal achievements and goals and adoption of healthy, positive attitudes.

Add to your calendar, Oct. 8, for The Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Visit www.alz.org.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.