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Cognitive Impairment in Older Individuals Can Be Reversed

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) seems to be a natural condition that occurs with age. Older individuals report common experiences of forgetfulness, difficulty with problem solving, and sensory impairment. Research has shown that certain classifications of MCI can be predictive of further deficits and even dementia and Alzheimer’s (AD). However, a recent study conducted by Perminder S. Sachdev, of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales Medicine in Australia, suggests that there are certain factors that can actually lead to reversal of MCI.

In the study, Sachdev assessed 233 individuals between the ages of 71 and 89 years old for levels of MCI. The participants were also evaluated for physical illness, psychological conditions, sensory capacity, and other factors that could affect MCI. They were assessed at baseline and again 2 years later. Sachdev found that the 66 participants who reverted back to normal levels of cognitive functioning shared some similarities. In particular, they were more likely to have a more mild form of MCI than those who did not revert. They also had more intact vision and smell senses. The reverters engaged in activities that stimulated cognitive processes such as reading, puzzles, and problem solving. They were more open to new experiences, had fewer incidences of arthritis and had better blood pressure levels than the non-reverters.

All of these conditions can be seen as disconnected, yet Sachdev explains that in fact, they are all related. For instance, having more severe MCI can prohibit people from engaging in activites that require thinking, such as problem solving and reading. Also, sensory deprivation can cause people to avoid activities that require use of those senses. Perhaps people with poor vision may choose not to take on visual tasks that could stimulate cognitive abilities. In addition, pain from arthritis could tax cognitive pathways, which could further impede on resources need to perform some of the protective tasks. Likewise, individuals with depression, stress, or high blood pressure may have temporary states of MCI as a result. When their psychological and physical symptoms are reduced through therapy or medication, their cognitive abilities can rebound. Even though many of the participants did go on to experience sustained or further MCI, this study shows that many individuals with MCI can take advantage of activities that could potentially reverse the impairment. “Assessing these factors could facilitate more accurate prognosis of individuals with MCI.” Sachdev added, “Participation in cognitively enriching activities and efforts to lower blood pressure might promote reversion.”

Sachdev PS, et al. (2013). Factors predicting reversion from mild cognitive impairment to normal cognitive functioning: A population-based study. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59649. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059649

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  • Hunter B

    April 10th, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Yet another study showing the importance of reading and working puzzles in our older generation.

  • Bailey

    April 10th, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    I have noticed a very interesting difference between the way my parents are aging and the way my husband’s parents are aging. Both of my parents have always been very mindful of their health and weight. My dad just gave up running marathons when he turned 70 and my mom has always been involved in tennis when she was younger and ice skating until she was 70. They both continue to go to the gym and participate in cardio exercise as well as lifting weights. My dad has always had a big garden and so they eat a lot of fresh produce in addition to lean protein. They are both heading into their mid-70’s and neither one has ever been admitted to the hospital for anything. They both are still very sharp and have good reflexes and balance. Switching over to my husband’s parents-they could not be more different. Neither one has ever been good about eating habits or exercising. My mother-in-law even had gastric bypass. I’d say both function about 10 years older than my parents even though in reality his parents are younger than mine. I have really learned a valuable lesson through watching both sets of parents age.

  • c jackson

    April 10th, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    seeing my grandparents get older was heart breaking they had such a hard time. then my grandma didn’t even know who my grandpa was and that was just awful. i hate to say it but we were all a little relieved when there time came so they wouldn’t have to suffer anymore i sure hope i do better than them.

  • Josie

    April 10th, 2013 at 11:21 AM

    Reversing the aging brain? Sounds like nothing short of a miracle to me. Great news!

  • Jody

    April 10th, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Getting old sure is a scary thought. To think that one day you might not be able to do things for yourself no more is real scary to me. I am glad to know there is something I can do about it after all. Gotta run-I have a puzzle to work.

  • Sarah

    April 10th, 2013 at 11:39 AM

    This gives such hope to those families who are dealing with this in their older loved ones. I have heard about doing things like thia ll along and how that could help ward off the loss of memory that many senior citizens often face, but I haven’t seen a study before this one that shows that actually starting it even after the signs of impairment have begun could help to slow the progression and maybe even reverse some of the memory loss. This is incredible news for anyone who primarily deals with geriatric patients and relatives. Thank you for giving us al a bit of hope where once there may have been none.

  • Richard

    April 10th, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    This is great news…yet another reason why in addition to physical exercise mental exercise is just as important too…!

  • Wendy

    April 10th, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    Yes, this article is immensely exciting. It is possible that I may have some form of MCI. My 83 y.o. mother was diagnosed w/ AD based on MRI a couple of years ago.

    Glad I found your site.

    Thank you.

  • brittani

    April 11th, 2013 at 4:00 AM

    So how many doctors do you think will prescribe cognitive activities either in advance of or when the cognitive impairment begins, versus how many will simply continue business as usual in treating the illness with medications? I would hope that more providers will start to think a little outside of the box and will help their patients try more than just medications to try to reverse some of these signs of impairment. But then you have to remember that there will always be some patients who will not be satisfied until they are given a prescription for something. This is what they have come to believe will “fix” them so I think that there will be those people who force the doctors’ hands, and even if the provider is willing to try something a little different the patient may not be.

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