The results of the first ever randomized controlled trial investigating a comprehensive program to slow cognitive decline among older people have been published in The Lancet.

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The intervention included muscle and cardiovascular training, mental exercises and advice on how to manage metabolic and vascular risk factors.

Earlier today, Medical News Today reported on the results of a study published in the journal Neurology that suggested physical activity may protect seniors from the effects of brain damage on motor function.

That study, conducted by researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL, found that the most active participants were unaffected by greater volumes of “white matter hyperintensities” – small areas of damage found in the brains of older people that are associated with impaired motor functioning.

In the study published in The Lancet, researchers from Sweden and Finland examined the effects on brain function of an intervention addressing assorted risk factors for age-related dementia.

These important risk factors included high body mass index (BMI) and heart health, and the intervention included healthy eating guidance, exercise, brain training and management of metabolic and vascular risk factors.

From across Finland, 1,260 participants aged between 60 and 77 were recruited for the study. Based on scores of standardized tests, all of the participants were considered to be at risk of dementia. Half were randomized into the intervention group and half formed a control group.

Those in the intervention group participated in regular meetings over 2 years with health professionals, where participants were provided with “comprehensive advice” on maintaining a healthy diet, muscle and cardiovascular training, mental exercises and how to use blood tests and other means to manage metabolic and vascular risk factors.

At the conclusion of this 2-year study period, the researchers used the standardized Neuropsychological Test Battery to assess participants’ mental function. They found that, overall, the intervention group scored an average of 25% higher on this test than the control group – a higher score corresponds to better mental functioning.

Breaking down the test’s various components, the team also found that the intervention group scored 83% higher than the control group on ability to organize and regulate thought processes (executive functioning) and 150% higher on processing speed.

The participants will be followed for at least a further 7 years to establish whether the reduction in cognitive decline demonstrated by the intervention group is followed by a reduction in diagnoses of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Much previous research has shown that there are links between cognitive decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health and fitness,” says lead author Prof. Miia Kivipelto, from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

“However,” Prof. Kivipelto adds, “our study is the first large randomized controlled trial to show that an intensive program aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent cognitive decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia.”

Last month, MNT looked at a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology that suggested meditation may reduce brain aging.