Wednesday 1 February 2023

Study: Following a balanced diet and practicing healthy habits can help slow age-related memory loss

 According to a study published in The BMJ, following a balanced diet and having healthy habits can help curb memory loss during old age.

In the decade-long study of Chinese adults over the age of 60, scientists discovered that the benefits of a healthy lifestyle can also help those with apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, which makes them susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease.

What is the APOE gene?

Research shows that carriers of the APOE gene, which is the strongest known risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, saw their memory loss slow down after making good lifestyle changes like quitting drinking.

Because there are many possible causes of memory decline, scientists think that a combination of different healthy lifestyle changes can help achieve the best effect.

For the study, researchers examined data on 29,000 adults over the age of 60. The participants had an average age of 72 and normal cognitive function at the start of the study.

In 2009, scientists used the Auditory Verbal Learning Test (AVLT) to calculate the memory function of the participants.

They were also tested for the APOE gene and the results revealed that 20 percent carried the Alzheimer’s gene. The scientists conducted follow-up assessments in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2019.  

What makes up a healthy lifestyle?

The scientists created a healthy lifestyle score that combined six factors:

  1. A healthy diet
  2. Regular exercise
  3. Active social contact
  4. Cognitive activity (reading and writing skills)
  5. Not smoking
  6. Never drinking alcohol

Scores ranged from zero to six. Based on their scores, researchers classified the participants as “favorable” (at least four to six healthy factors), “average”‘ (at least two or three factors) or “unfavorable” (only one or zero factors at all).

The participants were also grouped into two: the APOE carriers and non-carriers.

After taking into account other health, economic and social factors, the data revealed that each individual healthy behavior was linked to “a slower-than-average decline in memory over 10 years.” The researchers found that following a healthy diet had the strongest effect on slowing memory decline, with cognitive activity and physical exercise being the next most effective.

Based on AVLT scores, unlike the participants with “unfavorable” lifestyles, memory decline in the “favorable” lifestyle group was 0.28 points slower over 10 years.

Additionally, memory decline in the “favorable” lifestyle was also 0.16 points slower than the “average” group.

Participants with the APOE gene with favorable and average lifestyles also continued to experience a slower rate of memory decline compared to the people with an unfavorable lifestyle. The participants with favorable or average lifestyles were at least 90 percent and almost 30 percent less likely to develop dementia or mild cognitive impairment compared to the participants with unfavorable lifestyles, respectively.

The scientists believe that continued study could shed more light on the effects of a healthy lifestyle on memory decline across the entire lifespan. They added that memory problems can also affect younger people.

“These results might offer important information for public health initiatives to protect older adults against memory decline,” said the study authors.

They concluded that since there are no effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, prevention is  important.

Reversible causes of memory loss

Experiencing memory loss doesn’t always mean that you have dementia. There are various reasons why you may be experiencing cognitive problems, such as stress or vitamin deficiencies.

If you are experiencing problems with your memory, consult your physician to get an official diagnosis.

In some cases, what seems like significant memory loss can be caused by the following treatable conditions and reversible external factors:

Alcohol abuse

Excessive alcohol intake is toxic to your brain cells, and alcohol abuse results in memory loss. Over time, alcohol abuse may also increase your dementia risk.

Health experts recommend limiting your daily intake to only one to two drinks to avoid the damaging effects of excessive drinking. If possible, quit drinking alcohol altogether.


Older adults are particularly vulnerable to dehydration. Severe dehydration can cause symptoms like confusion, drowsiness, memory loss and other symptoms that may seem like dementia.

Avoid dehydration by consuming at least six to eight glasses of water every day. Be more careful and stay dehydrated if you take diuretics or laxatives or suffer from health issues like diabetes or high blood sugar.


Depression can mimic the signs of memory loss because it can make it hard for you to concentrate, stay organized, remember things and get things done.

Depression is also common among older adults, particularly if you have become less social and active than you used to be, or if you have recently experienced a number of important losses or major life changes, such as the loss of a loved one, moving out of your home, retirement or a serious medical diagnosis.

Side effects of medication

Several prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or a combination of drugs may result in cognitive problems and memory loss as a side effect. This is more common in older adults because they break down and absorb medication more slowly.

These common medications can affect memory and brain function:

  • Anti-anxiety meds
  • Anticholinergic drugs for gastrointestinal discomfort and urinary incontinence
  • Antidepressants
  • Antihistamines
  • Blood pressure and arthritis medication
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Painkillers
  • Sleeping pills

Thyroid problems

The thyroid gland controls your metabolism. If your metabolism is too fast, you may feel confused. If it’s too slow, you can feel sluggish and depressed.

Additionally, thyroid problems can cause memory problems like forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. Medication can help reverse these symptoms.

Vitamin B12 deficiency

A lack of vitamin B12 can cause permanent damage to the brain. Vitamin B12 protects neurons and it has an important role in healthy brain functioning.

The elderly have a slower nutritional absorption rate, which can make it difficult for people to get the B12 that their mind and body require. If you smoke or drink, you have a greater risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Fortunately, catching and addressing a vitamin B12 deficiency can help reverse the associated memory problems.

Make changes to your lifestyle habits and follow a balanced diet to protect against memory decline as you age.

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