Preventing Mental Decline: The Proof's Not In Yet
For years, the studies have been trickling in piecemeal, many with findings that suggest things like exercise, mental stimulation and dietary supplements can help prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimers disease. But when the studies are analyzed and looked at collectivelyas they were by a panel recently convened by the National Institutes of Healththey dont seem to provide enough evidence to support the conclusion that jogging or taking a pill can keep mental deterioration at bay.
More specifically, the panel looked at research on dietary supplement intake, use of prescription or non-prescription drugs, diet, exercise and social engagement to see if there was an association with a reduced risk of Alzhiemers disease and cognitive decline. The association was sometimes there, but weak.
"These associations are examples of the classic chicken or the egg quandary. Are people able to stay mentally sharp over time because they are physically active and socially engaged or are they simply more likely to stay physically active and socially engaged because they are mentally sharp?" says Martha L. Daviglus, MD, PhD, the conference panel chair and professor of preventive medicine and medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago. "An association only tells us that these things are related, not that one causes the other." The panel acknowledged that the prevention strategies studied arent necessarily harmful and may be beneficial in other ways.