Systemic, lifestyle changes to improve cognitive health


DAYTON — The year 2022 was a productive and promising one for Alzheimer’s disease research, featuring discoveries related to the causes, risk factors and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

With 250,000 Ohioans over the age of 65 expected to have Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, this research is more important than ever. Here are five important things that were learned about Alzheimer’s in 2022.

“These findings highlight two important facts: on a systemic level, furthering medication research and reducing institutional health barriers like racism are vital in fighting dementia on a large scale,” said Annemarie Barnett, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley and Greater Cincinnati Chapters. “And on a personal level, lifestyle choices such as taking a daily multivitamin, reducing ultra-processed food intake and wearing hearing aids if you need them can help protect you from cognitive decline.”

Alzheimer’s treatments are getting better. In November, pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Biogen announced positive results from their global Phase 3 clinical trial of an Alzheimer’s drug called lecanemab, slowing the rate of cognitive decline in study participants by 27% over 18 months — allowing individuals more time to live independently and participate in daily life. These are the most encouraging results that have been seen to date for an Alzheimer’s treatment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its decision on accelerated approval early in January, making lecanemab the second FDA-approved drug in 18 months and changing the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

A daily multivitamin may slow brain aging. Research published in September in “Alzheimer’s and Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association” found that taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement every day for three years resulted in a statistically significant cognitive benefit. This is the first positive, large-scale, long-term study to show that multivitamin-mineral supplementation for older adults may slow cognitive aging. With confirmation through research, these promising findings have the potential to significantly impact public health — improving brain health, lowering health care costs and reducing caregiver burden — especially among older adults.

Frozen pizza, candy and soda may raise the risk of cognitive decline. At the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) last summer, new research results found that eating a diet with a large amount of ultra-processed food can significantly accelerate cognitive decline. Ultra-processed foods make up more than half of American diets, and up to two-thirds of the diets of children and teens. Socioeconomic factors often contribute to lack of access to healthy foods.

There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of cognitive decline as a part of aging. These include eating a balanced diet (focusing on vegetables and fruit, whole grains and lean meats and limiting sugar and fats), exercising regularly, getting good sleep, staying cognitively and socially engaged, protecting against head injury, not smoking and managing heart health.

The Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter regularly offers a free education program, Healthy Living for Your Brain and Body: Tips from the Latest Research, in various locations throughout the year. To find upcoming programs near you, visit www.alz.org/crf and search by your zip code.

Experiencing racism is linked to poor memory. Also at AAIC 2022, researchers reported that experiences of structural, interpersonal and institutional racism are associated with lower memory scores and worse cognition in midlife and old age, especially among black individuals. The study notes that black participants experienced an average of six civil rights violations in their lifetime and were exposed to interpersonal discrimination at least once a week. Those experiences were associated with lower memory scores and had an effect comparable to several years of aging.

This information is especially important given black Americans are about twice as likely, and Hispanic Americans are about one-and-a-half times as likely, as white individuals to have Alzheimer’s or other dementias, according to the Alzheimer’s Association “2022 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.”

Wearing hearing aids may reduce the risk of dementia. Individuals with hearing loss who used hearing restorative devices had a 19% decrease in risk of long-term cognitive decline compared to individuals with uncorrected hearing loss, according to research published in December in JAMA Neurology. This information appeared five months after the FDA announced it will allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, greatly expanding access for 30 million Americans living with hearing loss. In addition to improving daily communication, the use of hearing aids may also benefit brain health. Treating hearing loss has the effect of reducing social isolation, which can have a major impact on cognitive decline.

While advancements are taking place, the significant impact of Alzheimer’s disease remains. Over a recent 20-year period, deaths from heart disease went down 7.3%, while deaths from Alzheimer’s increased 145%. In 2022, Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost the U.S. $321 billion.

“Several FDA decisions are expected on Alzheimer’s treatments in the coming year, making this an exciting and hopeful time in the fight to end this disease,” Barnett said. “With increased research funding from the federal government and nonprofit organizations, we anticipate seeing more advances and discoveries in 2023 that will make a difference in the lives of people living with, and those at risk for, Alzheimer’s and other dementia.”

Those concerned about themselves or a loved one can contact the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter office at 937-291-3332 to schedule a care consultation with a social worker who can offer connections to local resources that can help. The Alzheimer’s Association’s Helpline can be reached 24/7 at 800-272-3900.