Diet, exercise, cognitive training, social activities, and managing heart health can greatly reduce the risk for dementia, according to the new FINGER study by Finnish scientists.
FINGER was a two-year geriatric psychiatry study that followed 1,260 people aged 60 to 77 who had modifiable risks for dementia, such as diabetes, obesity, and poor nutrition. The researchers divided participants into two groups: the first group that would make significant lifestyle and behavioral health changes while the second control group engaged only in health education sessions.
FINGER is an acronym used by the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study. The acronym FINGER combines the first three letters of “Finnish” with the first three letters of “geriatric.”
The researchers asked the first group to make specific changes to their lifestyles, including increasing physical activity, eating a more nutritious diet, improving social support, and engaging in brain-stimulating activities. Researchers also had these participants manage metabolic and vascular risk factors, such as weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
The researchers found that these lifestyle improvements reduced the risk for dementia. At the end of the study, participants who made particular lifestyle changes scored higher on memory, thinking skills and mental processing speed than the control group.
“This is the first randomized control trial showing that it is possible to prevent cognitive decline using a multi-domain intervention among older at-risk individuals. These results highlight the value of addressing multiple risk factors in improving performance in several cognitive domains,” said Miia Kivipelto, M.D., Ph.D., Professor at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and the National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland. “Participants told us their experience was very positive, and dropout rate only 11 percent after two years.”
The researchers included a seven-year follow up plan to track the development of dementia in participants. This follow up will help scientists know if these lifestyle changes will have long-lasting effects. Researchers will use advanced testing, including MRIs and PET scans, to look for biomarkers that scientists use to identify the onset of dementia.
The FINGER study is important to geriatric psychiatry and behavioral health in that it shows physical activity, nutritional guidance, cognitive training, social activities and management of heart health risk factors improved cognitive performance. This may mean that anyone can reduce his risk for dementia by exercising, eating right, learning, staying healthy and having fun.