Non-drug treatments for dementia show promise, experts say

December 19, 2006

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Memory training and other non-drug treatments may one day help older adults ward off declines in mental function, according to researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in an editorial in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The latest research suggests that mental training and physical activity both have promise for preventing declines in cognition," said Sally A. Shumaker, Ph.D., lead author on the editorial. "It's possible to envision a future treatment approach that combines lifestyle and drug treatments to meet the specific needs of each individual."

Shumaker, a professor of public health sciences and associate dean for research at Wake Forest, said the findings suggest opportunities for studying other non-drug treatments, such as meditation, to prevent or slow declines in cognition, which includes concentration, language, memory and abstract reasoning.

"Cognitive decline is a rapidly growing problem because of our aging population," said Shumaker. "It is probably one of the biggest fears that older adults have - the loss of your mind and your competency and independence. It seriously threatens the ability of the aging population to live independently."

In the editorial, Shumaker and co-authors Claudine Legault, Ph.D., and Laura H. Coker, Ph.D., also from Wake Forest, discuss the results of a recent multicenter study involving cognitive training, as well as other advances in the field.

The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study involved almost 3,000 participants. Half received 10 sessions of cognitive training and half received no special training. Participants who had the training showed immediate improvements in memory, reasoning and speed of processing. When the participants were tested five years later, the improvements had been sustained.

Other recent research showing that sedentary older adults perform less well on measures of memory suggests that physical activity may also be able to improve memory, according to the editorial.

There are an estimated 24 million people in the world with dementia and 4.6 million new cases are diagnosed each year. Declines in certain mental functions, such as memory, predict future inability to perform activities of daily living, such as dressing and feeding themselves.

"These studies illustrate the promise of non-drug treatments," said Shumaker. "The medications available today produce only low to moderate improvements in mental function. And they can have adverse side effects. Showing that cognitive training can protect mental function means that individuals who cannot tolerate existing drugs would have additional treatment options."

"The ACTIVE study is an important step toward demonstrating the feasibility of enrolling older adults in a long-term study of a cognitive training intervention," according to the editorial.

The authors say that matching cognitive training with an individual's risk factor profile is an intriguing possibility. For example, training that focuses on memory may be best for those at risk for Alzheimer's disease.

"Once they are standardized and developed for mass markets, cognitive training programs might be available to seniors through churches, schools and senior centers," said Shumaker.

"Importantly, cognitive training programs may give individuals a greater sense of control over the disturbing prospect of cognitive decline and have a beneficial effect on their quality of life," says the editorial.

As a researcher, Shumaker served as national principal investigator for the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study, which showed that estrogen and progestin doubled the risk of dementia in older women.
Embargoed for release at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006

Media Contact: Shannon Koontz,, 336-716-4587

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university's School of Medicine. U.S. News & World Report ranks Wake Forest University School of Medicine 18th in family medicine, 20th in geriatrics, 25th in primary care and 41st in research among the nation's medical schools. It ranks 35th in research funding by the National Institutes of Health. Almost 150 members of the medical school faculty are listed in Best Doctors in America.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center

Related Dementia Articles from Brightsurf:

The danger of Z-drugs for dementia patients
Strong sleeping pills known as 'Z-drugs' are linked with an increased risk of falls, fractures and stroke among people with dementia, according to new research.

The long road to dementia
Alzheimer's disease develops over decades. It begins with a fatal chain reaction in which masses of misfolded beta-amyloid proteins are produced that in the end literally flood the brain.

Why people with dementia go missing
People with dementia are more likely to go missing in areas where road networks are dense, complicated and disordered - according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

PTSD may double risk of dementia
People who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are up to twice as likely to develop dementia later in life, according to a new study by UCL researchers, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Dementia education
School-based dementia education could deliver much needed empathy and understanding for older generations as new research from the University of South Australia shows it can significantly improve dementia knowledge and awareness among younger generations.

Building dementia friendly churches
A project to help church communities become more 'dementia friendly' has had a significant impact across the country.

A "feeling" for dementia?
A research team led by the DZNE concludes that personal perception can be an important indicator for the early detection of Alzheimer's disease.

New biomarker for dementia diagnosis
Medical researchers in the UK and Australia have identified a new marker which could support the search for novel preventative and therapeutic treatments for dementia.

Digital solutions for dementia care
Telehealth delivery of dementia care in the home can be as effective as face-to-face home visit services if carers and recipients take advantage of the technologies available, Australian researchers say.

Despite a marked reduction in the prevalence of dementia, the number of people with dementia is set to double by 2050 according to new Alzheimer Europe report
Today, at a European Parliament lunch debate, Alzheimer Europe launched a new report presenting the findings of its collaborative analysis of recent prevalence studies and setting out updated prevalence rates for dementia in Europe.

Read More: Dementia News and Dementia Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to