In the marketplace:
Driven by the demographics-- more than 9,000 people in the U.S. turn 65 each day -- there has been increased interest in "brain-training" and "brain-fitness" with a subsequent commercial response with numerous "programs" for consumers.
These brain-training activities may be of some benefit; after all, cognitive stimulation is generally a good thing but...while engaging the mind can indeed support older brains in maintaining healthy functioning, it is doubtful that doing a daily cross-word puzzle can prevent Alzheimer's brain plaques from forming.
Though research continues, firm conclusions cannot be drawn about the association of modifiable risk factors (such as "brain-training" ) with cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease. There is an absence of highly reliable consensus-based diagnostic criteria for cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer's disease, and the available criteria have not been uniformly applied.
As far as diet, we do know that some studies suggest that older people who eat mostly fruits and vegetables may experience a slower rate of cognitive decline than meat lovers. Other studies have clearly shown that older adults at risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies had smaller brains and scored lowest on tests measuring thinking, reasoning and memory.
All of us hope to gain new insight through ongoing scientific studies into dietary and pharmaceutical factors which may prevent or delay cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease, but at this point, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of dietary supplements or pharmaceutical agents to prevent cognitive decline or Alzheimer's disease. These findings were presented in the NIH Consensus Development Conference Statement on Preventing Alzheimer’s Disease and Cognitive Decline. (PDF)
"Anti-aging" supplements-- also known as Nutraceuticals--are widely advertised to have "miracle" effects. In 2005 the Senior WISE® research team conducted a review of research evaluating the effectiveness of nutraceutical products marketed for cognitive and memory enhancement.
We published the findings in the Journal of Holistic Nursing. This article identifies a convenience sample of 14 memory-enhancing herbal products that were found to be available commercially, we examined their active ingredients, stated their claims, and evaluated the available evidence to determine their efficacy.
The analysis conclusion: until more research is available, I suggested that holistic nursing professionals exercise caution in recommending nutraceuticals to their patients/clients for the use of cognitive improvement or memory enhancement. For the consumer, the old latin phrase "caveat emptor " i.e. "let the buyer beware" should hold sway. (see box)
In 2005 the SeniorWISE® team conducted an evaluation of Nutraceutical products marketed for cognitive and memory enhancement.
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