A review of studies that have aimed to prevent cognitive decline, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, has found little to no evidence that Big Pharma’s pills offer any help at all. However, the study, which was just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), did conclude something does appear to work when it comes to keeping aging minds healthy.

The key, which involves no drugs at all, is using and challenging your brain through mental exercise.

The authors of the review investigated the results of 32 randomised controlled trials in order to compile the best and latest evidence for physicians and their patients who are hoping to prevent and/or treat cognitive decline. Although oestrogen therapy was touted for years by mainstream medicine as a way for women to help prevent dementia, the new review concluded that oestrogen is instead associated with an increase in cognitive decline and dementia.

Mental exercise, however, showed benefits in the three clinical trials included in the review. The mental workouts involved computerised training programs or intensive one-on-one personal cognitive training that focused on improving memory, reasoning or speed of processing.

In one of the studies, research subjects showed significantly improved ability in memory during five year follow-up periods. Another study that used computerised cognitive training showed an improvement in auditory memory (what was heard and remembered) as well as attention in a group of elderly research subjects.

Identifying proven ways to prevent dementia

“This review provides some evidence to help clinicians and their patients address what strategies might prevent cognitive decline,” Dr. Raza Naqvi, Division of Geriatric Medicine, University of Toronto, and co-authors wrote in the CMAJ review paper. “Future studies should address the impact of cognitive training on the prevention of cognitive decline, and we encourage researchers to consider easily accessible tools such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku that have not been rigorously studied. ”

Finding strategies that can help preserve healthy mental functioning as people age is more important than ever because of an increase in lifespans. With an ageing population, it is estimated that the prevalence of dementia will double to more than 1 million Canadians over the next 25 years, for example. Mild cognitive impairment (cognitive decline that is more than normal for someone of a specific age) now affects between 10 and 25 percent of people over age 70 and the annual rate of decline to dementia is about 10 percent.

The new review labels the evidence from existing studies linking physical exercise to dementia prevention “weak”. The research team also failed to identify what they call “strong evidence” that nutritional supplements halt mental decline. However, as NaturalNews has previously reported, other areas of recent study are providing tantalising and hopeful clues that there are numerous non-drug strategies that could help keep aging minds healthy.

A case in point: research prevented at the Gerontological Society of America’s (GSA) 65th Annual Scientific Meeting last fall indicates that avoiding polluted air could protect brains. Living in areas of high air pollution can lead to decreased cognitive function in older adults, according to the study which analysed data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Retirement Study.

In addition, using your brain in a way that involves something other than “mental exercise” – specifically, to meditate regularly – may keep it from the ravages of dementia. A study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging by Massachusetts General Hospital researchers concluded that an eight-week mindful meditation practice produced measurable beneficial changes in participants’ brain regions associated with memory.