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These 5 lifestyle habit changes improved brain function for those with early Alzheimer's

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Many people fear the physical and cognitive declines associated with aging, for good reason. However, a new study suggests that a combination of daily lifestyle habits can improve brain function for those who already show signs of Alzheimer's disease—the most common type of dementia impairing memory, thinking speed, and overall well-being. Nearly 7 million Americans live with Alzheimer's, and while drug treatments for the condition are in the approval process,  people are eager to find ways to take control of their brain health. 

The study published Friday, conducted by the journal Alzheimer's Research & Therapy, found that five months of eating a vegan, whole-foods diet, walking regularly, connecting with others, taking nutrient and mineral supplements, and adhering to a range of stress reduction practices improved cognitive function for older adults with early signs of Alzheimer's in comparison to adults who did not change their habits.

"I'm cautiously optimistic and very encouraged by these findings, which may empower many people with new hope and new choices," said Dr. Dean Ornish, who led the study and is the founder and president of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute, in a press release. "We do not yet have a cure for Alzheimer's, but as the scientific community continues to pursue all avenues to identify potential treatments, we are now able to offer an improved quality of life to many people suffering from this terrible disease."

Previous research endorses the power of connection for keeping the brain sharp and engaged, especially because social isolation is associated with a 50% increased risk for dementia, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Similarly, exercise improves blood flow to the brain, while eating an anti-inflammatory diet and limiting processed foods reduces the risk of inflammation and diabetes, which increases the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. A deficiency in key vitamins like B12 is also associated with signs of dementia. Also, reducing stress by practicing mindfulness and relaxation can calm the body, keep your brain focused, and improve memory and emotional resilience. 

Under Ornish, the researchers worked with 49 adults with mild cognitive impairment or early dementia between 2018 and 2022, half of whom adhered to a 20-week lifestyle boot camp. Researchers then assessed the participants' blood biomarkers and ensured that there were no statistically significant differences before the intervention, including demographics, cognitive function, and other biomarkers. 

In the assessment of four measurements of cognitive functions, the lifestyle group improved in three of the tests and showed a slower progression of decline in the other. The control group declined in all four of the measurements. According to cognitive assessments of improvement from clinicians, 71% of participants' cognitive function stayed the same or improved in the habits group. In comparison, no one improved in the control group, and 68% of the participants' function declined. Additionally, amyloid in the brain, a protein responsible for Alzheimer's, was reduced in the habits group and increased in the control group.

"Many patients who experienced improvement reported regaining lost cognition and function," the press release reads. "For example, several patients in the intervention group reported that they had been unable to read a book or watch a movie because they kept forgetting what they had just read or viewed and had to keep starting over, but now they were able to do so and retain most of this information." 

Further research on prolonged lifestyle changes may prove beneficial in indicating the effectiveness of this combined approach, according to the researchers who also noted that the participants who adhered more strictly to their habits improved their brain function more aggressively than those who did not. 

The habits implemented by the participants: 

For more on Alzheimer's care:

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