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Saving Your Brain: Self-Help or Professional Help?

When it comes to fighting cognitive decline, it may help to get help.

Gerd Altmann/Pixabay, used with permission
For those who suffer from cognitive decline, there's help to be had.
Source: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay, used with permission

A multi-factorial approach to preserving cognition as we age generally includes improved diet, if necessary, increased or targeted exercise, and methods of cognitive engagement, such as “brain games.” A study published in the September 9, 2020 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at whether or not these potentially helpful measures, known to maintain and even improve cognition, are more effective when combined with assistance from interactive sessions involving nutrition and physical activity experts, as well as online brain training. This trial study, which lasted eight weeks, included 119 men and women with subjective cognitive decline (SCD) or mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

After assessing all study participants for cognition and risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, the researchers divided the individuals into two groups: a control group and an intervention group. All participants were given online educational materials information about dementia and related lifestyle risk factors. All were instructed to read the material and incorporate the information they received about the benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet, physical activity, and cognitive engagement into their own lives. The intervention group, however, was given additional assistance in the form of meetings with a dietitian, one session with an exercise physiologist, and computer-assisted brain training. The researchers recorded results at follow-up meetings scheduled over six months after the study ended.

To reduce cognitive decline, the researchers understood that an individual must retain enough neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change and adapt to new circumstances, such as new information and stimulation in the environment—for their brain to rebound and show improvement from cognitive decline. Although developing brains display significantly more plasticity, modern investigative research has shown that adult brains are also capable of change, and of recovering cognitive skills lost to damage or decline. But the question remains: Exactly what does it take?

Throughout the follow-up sessions, the researchers found that participants in the intervention group who had the opportunity for interactive meetings and activities were better able to improve their lifestyles and had significantly higher scores on cognitive tests when compared to those who simply reviewed educational materials. These results, the researchers hypothesize, indicate that the brains of those who are suffering cognitive decline may retain enough neuroplasticity to improve cognition, even over a short period of time, when positive lifestyle changes are fully implemented. That might take some help, as well as evidence from larger and longer studies to confirm the hypothesis and the details.


Lifestyle Risk Factors and Cognitive Outcomes from the Multidomain Dementia Risk Reduction Randomized Controlled Trial, Body Brain Life for Cognitive Decline (BBL‐CD). Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 09 September 2020 DOI: 10.1111/jgs.16762