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Routine allied health care could dramatically reduce the risk of Alzheimer's

Photo: Routine allied health care could dramatically reduce the risk of Alzheimer's
Routine access to allied health professionals such as dietitians, nutritionists and exercise physiologists would reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s, according to a new study by Macquarie University’s Professor Ralph Martins.

“My research team, and others in Australia and globally, have been working for a long time to show that diet, exercise and sleep are important factors in regulating the risk of Alzheimer's,” says Professor Martins.

“However, the encouraging findings of Professor Miia Kivipelto from Finland  has sparked a global movement which includes 30 countries.

“Professor Kivipelto's study, known as the FINGERS trial, has shown that a lifestyle combination intervention of diet, exercise, brain training etc. can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
“This finding has created hope for this approach globally as drug trials to date have failed to significantly impact on slowing down Alzheimer's.”

Professor Martin says dietitians and nutritionists can play an integral role in advocating adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

These types of professionals can also provide guidance around avoiding or reducing the intake of potentially harmful substances, such as sugar and certain saturated fat.

“Exercise physiologists can play a role in advocating increased physical activity and provide exercise programs that are tailored to the needs and limitations of each individual.”

“There certainly is a benefit in (routinely visiting allied health professionals), not just for brain health but for overall health as well.

“Personalised programs will work best and by seeing allied health professionals regularly they can be monitored, and intervention regimes refined particularly with exercise.

The key findings of the study were that a combined lifestyle intervention significantly reduced cognitive decline in older people over the age of 69 years.

In particular, memory, attention and processing of information were shown to be better in the treated group over the control group.

“There is now overwhelming evidence to indicate that the build up of a particular protein in the brain called beta amyloid, is the primary initiating factor leading to Alzheimer's disease.

“But oxidative stress as a result of poor lifestyle is a major contributor to the build of brain beta amyloid.

“These lifestyle factors include poor diet, lack of exercise, lack of mental stimulation, poor attention to vascular risk factors, poor sleep and more.”

While experts are still trying to fully understand how diet impacts on the risk of Alzheimer's disease, the evidence indicates that adhering to a Mediterranean diet significantly impacts on the build of brain amyloid.

“The vegetables and fruit in the Mediterranean diet appear to be the greatest contributors for a healthy brain possibly due to their antioxidant content that combats the oxidative stress associated with aging and Alzheimer's,” Professor Martin says.

When it comes to exercise, there is clear evidence that doing so regularly reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease by lowering beta amyloid and its benefits have now been demonstrated in geneticially high risk individuals.

“The mechanism by which exercise provides its beneficial effects is still being studied but it improves blood flow to the brain helping clear out toxins and increases enzymes that breakdown beta amyloid as some of the ways its beneficial effect is mediated.

“There is no question that diet, exercise, brain training, attention to vascular risk factors all individually impact on brain health.

“However our understanding of how these different modalities are integrated to result in a significant clinical outcome are in its early stages.”

Which is why Professor Martin says further study is required in this areas.

“While the evidence from Finland is most encouraging  it represents findings from a single country whose population and their lifestyle is quite different from Australia's.

“It is therefore essential that Australia and other countries conduct their own intervention trials to determine what lifestyle combinations will work best for their local population.

“To this end, with support from an NHMRC MRFF grant and a grant from the US Alzheimer's Foundation, we will be conducting a combined lifestyle intervention trial in Australia with sites in Perth and Sydney.

“Our Australian intervention trial is called AU-ARROW which is aligned closely with interventions in the United States and Europe.”

Professor Martin says it is Important to note that for a significant clinical benefit for brain health to prevent Alzheimer's and dementia, a combined lifestyle approach needs to be undertaken, and for Australia, the AU-ARROW study will provide this important information for guidelines to be established.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.