Entries in Cognitive Impairment (3)


Chocolate Good for Heart and Soul -- And Mind?

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- We all know that chocolate is comforting to the soul, but it may also be just as good for your body and mind.

A new study suggests that consuming more flavanol, a component of cocoa, improves cognitive function and blood pressure in elderly patients who have mild cognitive impairment.

In the study, elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment consumed drinks that were either low, intermediate or high in cocoa flavanol. Cognitive function -- including executive function, short-term and long-term memory, processing speed and overall thinking skills -- was tested after eight weeks. Scores improved in patients who drank intermediate and high levels of flavanol.

"This is the first dietary intervention study demonstrating that the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols might be effective in improving cognitive function in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment," wrote study author Giovambattista Desideri, associate professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of L’Aquila in Italy. The results add to a growing body of evidence that consuming moderate amounts of chocolate may be good for you -- and some health experts said the results appear encouraging.

"There is a large and growing body of evidence linking foods concentrated in bioflavanoids -- and cocoa specifically -- with beneficial health effects," says Dr. David Katz, director of medical public health studies at Yale University.

For example, a recent study found that dark chocolate reduces the risk of heart problems. Flavanols, which can also be found in tea and in dark fruits such as red grapes, cherries and apples, are also known to help with kidney function, weight problems, anemia, gout, diabetes and stroke.

Others, however, cautioned that the study falls short of a ringing endorsement for everyone who fears dementia to start loading up on chocolate. First of all, the study had no control group. In other words, people who consumed a large amount of the cocoa flavanols were compared to those who consumed less, not people who had consumed none at all.

Second, the eight-week trial was short.  Since flavonols are known to improve heart function in the short term, it is possible that the improvements in cognitive function were just a result of improved blood flow to the brain.

The improved cognition, "might…be due to favorable effects on blood pressure and blood flow," Katz said. "I have long recommended foods rich in bioflavanoids and have long pointed out that most cognitive impairment is, in fact, vascular disease."

Still, for chocolate-lovers, doctors agree that chocolate is a tasty and practical way to consume flavanol.

"Cocoa powder is probably the best way to get their flavanols, as it delivers the most flavanols with the least amount of calories," says Keith Ayoob, an associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Though cocoa should not be used alone as a treatment for cognitive impairment, it may be a promising complementary approach to management of early dementia.

"As far as treatment, it could be offered to patients and families in a disease in which there is little in the way of good therapy," says Dr. Roger A. Brumback, a professor of pathology, psychiatry and neurology at Creighton University Medical Center.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obesity Might Lower Cognitive Function in Older Adults, Study Finds

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Older adults with a high body mass index (BMI) and big bellies are more likely to have lower cognitive function than those with a lower BMI, new research suggests.

The study, published in the journal Age and Aging, included 250 people older than 59 who underwent a variety of weight measurement, scans and cognitive performance tests.  People between 60 and 70 with the highest BMIs were linked to the lowest cognitive function.

The Korean study showed a particular association between visceral fat, or fat around the torso, and poor mental performance.

“Aging is characterized by lean body mass loss and adipose tissue increase without weight gain, which may not be captured by BMI, and traditional adiposity measures like BMI are less useful in elderly persons,” said Dr. Dae Hyun Yoon, associate professor of psychiatry at Seoul National University Hospital.

Study results changed in adults older than 70, and the high BMI and large weight circumferences were not associated with cognitive decline.

“A higher BMI is related to lower dementia risk in the oldest old.  It is possible that persons with low BMI lost their weight because of premorbid dementia,” Yoon said.  “It is also possible that a low BMI is the consequence of hyperinsulinemia (high insulin levels), which precedes weight loss and is related to higher dementia risk.”

Dr. Ken Fujioka, director of the Center for Weight Management at Scripps Clinic in San Diego, said the results make sense and are on par with what he sees clinically.

“As patients gain central obesity -- that is the key -- they increase their level of inflammatory agents and atherosclerotic agents that will wreck havoc on the brain,” Fujioka said.

While it is unclear whether the participants in the study went on to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, past research has shown that excess fat might play a role in a person’s cognitive decline.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nicotine Patch Improves Memory in People with Mild Impairment

BananaStock/Thinkstock(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- The nicotine patch designed to help people quit smoking can also improve memory in older adults with mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, a small clinical trial found.

The trial involved 67 non-smokers with MCI, which is considered an intermediate between normal aging and dementia. People with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.

Half of the patients wore a skin patch that delivered 15 milligrams of nicotine per day; the other half wore a placebo patch. The study was double-blinded, meaning both the patients and the researchers were unaware who was getting the drug.

After six months, patients who wore the nicotine patch regained 46 percent of their age-adjusted "normal performance" on long-term memory tests, whereas patients in the placebo group worsened by 26 percent.

"We're pretty excited that we got a strong sign of improvement, and we think it has great implications going forward," said Dr. Paul Newhouse, director of Vanderbilt University's Center for Cognitive Medicine and lead author of the study published Monday in the journal Neurology.

Nicotine stimulates receptors on neurons involved in learning and memory, called cholinergic neurons. In Alzheimer's disease, those neurons die off. In an earlier study, Newhouse showed intravenous nicotine could improve memory in Alzheimer's patients.

Drugs approved to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, such as Aricept, act by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates nicotine receptors as well as other kinds of receptors.

By specifically activating those remaining receptors, nicotine can boost the function of surviving neurons. And research done in cells suggests it might even protect neurons from Alzheimer's disease.

"The jury's still out on whether nicotine is disease-modifying," said Newhouse, describing the ability of a drug to actually slow the progression of a disease rather than merely treat symptoms. "But there's never going to be one single silver bullet. We're going to have to treat patients with a complex brain disease with multiple approaches."

The six-month trial suggested the nicotine was safe. But Newhouse cautioned that smoking or unsupervised use of the patch is not.

"People with mild memory loss should not start smoking or using nicotine patches by themselves, because there are harmful effects of smoking and a medication such as nicotine should only be used with a doctor's supervision," he said. "But this study provides strong justification for further research into the use of nicotine for people with early signs of memory loss."

Newhouse is conducting a one-year follow-up study of the same MCI patients. He hopes to publish the results later this year.

In the next two years, other researchers will reveal the results of two clinical trials of disease-modifying drugs targeting beta-amyloid, a protein that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio