Simple test may predict cognitive impairment in older people much earlier

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Scientists have discovered a simple memory test that may predict the risk of developing cognitive impairment years later.

A study conducted by Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York showed that some people with no thinking and memory problems may have very subtle signs of early cognitive impairment.

The study involved 969 people with an average age of 69 who were given a simple memory test and followed for up to 10 years.

The test includes two phases. In the study phase, people are shown four cards, each with drawings of four items.

They are asked to identify the item belonging to a particular category. For example, participants would name the item “grapes” after being asked to identify a “fruit.”

In the test phase, participants are first asked to recall the items. This measures their ability to retrieve information.

Then, for items they did not remember, they are given category cues. This phase measures memory storage.

The participants were divided into five groups, or stages zero through four, based on their test scores. Stage zero represents no memory problems.

Stages one and two reflect increasing difficulty with retrieving memories, which can precede dementia by five to eight years. These participants continue to be able to remember items when given cues.

In the third and fourth stages, people cannot remember all the items even after they are given cues. These stages precede dementia by one to three years.

A total of 47% of the participants were in stage zero, 35% in stage one, 13% in stage two, and 5% in stages three and four combined. Of the participants, 234 people developed cognitive impairment.

Researchers found that when compared to people who were at SOMI stage zero, people at stages one and two were twice as likely to develop cognitive impairment.

People who were at stages three and four were three times as likely to develop cognitive impairment.

After adjusting for biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease, the SOMI system continued to predict an increased risk of cognitive impairment.

Researchers estimated that after 10 years, about 72% of those in the third and fourth stages would have developed cognitive impairment, compared to about 57% of those in the second stage, 35% in the first stage, and 21% of those in stage zero.

Detecting cognitive impairment at its earliest stages is beneficial to researchers investigating treatments.

It also could benefit those people who are found to be at increased risk by consulting with their physician and implementing interventions to promote healthy brain aging.

How to prevent cognitive decline

There is no guaranteed way to prevent cognitive decline, but there are things that you can do to reduce your risk. Here are some tips that may help:

Stay physically active: Regular physical exercise can help improve blood flow to the brain, which can improve cognitive function.

Exercise has also been shown to promote the growth of new brain cells and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Eat a healthy diet: A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats can help reduce inflammation in the body and support brain health. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet has been associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline.

Stay mentally active: Mental stimulation, such as reading, playing games, and doing puzzles, can help keep the brain active and may reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Manage chronic conditions: Chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can increase the risk of cognitive decline.

Managing these conditions through lifestyle changes and medications as needed can help reduce the risk.

Get enough sleep: Sleep is important for memory consolidation and brain function. Getting enough sleep can help improve cognitive function and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Stay socially engaged: Social interaction can help keep the brain active and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Staying connected with friends and family, joining a club, or volunteering can help promote social engagement.

It’s important to note that cognitive decline can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, medical conditions, and lifestyle factors.

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent cognitive decline, taking steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk. If you have concerns about cognitive decline, talk to your healthcare provider.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Omega-3 fats and carotenoid supplements could improve memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and vitamin E may help prevent Parkinson’s disease.

The study was published in Neurology.

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