Health

Mental exercises may prevent mental decline in seniors

A review released by the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the prevention of cognitive decline said that medicinal, non-medicinal and physical exercise did nothing to prevent the decline in healthy seniors, but mental exercises have been shown to be beneficial.

Estrogen shown to increase instance of dementia in test patients

Seniors who participate in mental exercises less likely to develop cognitive decline according to a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A review released by the Canadian Medical Association Journal on the prevention of cognitive decline said that medicinal and non-medicinal products, and physical exercise did nothing to prevent the decline in healthy seniors, but mental exercises have been shown to be beneficial.

The report was written to help aging Canadians make more informed decisions when faced with deteriorating mental faculties and the preventative therapies available to them.

Many industries and organizations claim that the use of their products — which range from physical and cognitive programs to prescription medicines and non-prescription supplements — can prevent cognitive decline, however there is little evidence supporting these claims.

"There is no consistent evidence of benefit for any pharmacologic agent in preventing cognitive decline in healthy older adults," said the review.

Some therapies harmful

In some cases there was evidence of harm with certain pharmacological therapies such as estrogen and anti-inflammatory drugs.

The review was compiled by searching through randomized controlled trials which focused on seniors with normal mental health at baseline and studied over varying numbers of years.

The therapies in these trials included:

  • Hormonal therapies
  • Herbal supplements
  • Vitamins and fatty acids
  • Various prescription drugs
  • Physical exercise
  • Cognitive training
  • Modification of vascular risk factors (weight reduction, smoking, etc.)

Most therapies tested indicated either no change in memory-related outcomes, or no evidence of preventing cognitive decline.

The use of estrogen therapies indicated a decline in cognitive function in the patients with the use of the hormone and an increase in dementia.

Physical exercise as a treatment — such as resistance and balance-training — did not show  negative effects and did show improvements in some, but not enough to substantiate any claims.

Mental exercises in reasoning, speed and memory showed significant improvements over a five year period.

"There is some evidence that specific cognitive exercises can sharpen memory, and have an incremental benefit in preventing cognitive decline," said the report. "However, the transferability of these benefits to any cognitively stimulating experience is unproven."

Mild cognitive impairment affects 10-20 per cent of Canadians over the age of 70, and the review estimates that the prevalence of dementia will affect over 1 million seniors over the next 25 years.

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