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Supplements do not help improve cognitive wellness in the elderly. This is according to a review of published research conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital, which found no evidence that drugs, herbal products or vitamin supplements prevent cognitive decline in healthy older adults. However, the research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, also suggests that mental exercises, such as computerised memory training programs, might do the trick.
According to Dr Raza Naqvi, a University of Toronto resident and lead author of the review, ‘This review provides some evidence to help clinicians and their patients address what strategies might prevent cognitive decline.’ This could have implications for the wellbeing of a large number of people, as mild cognitive impairment affects 10 to 25% of those over the age of 70.
If you suffer from mild cognitive impairment, this means that your memory, judgment, and decision-making skills may be worse than someone of a similar age, but not so bad that it interferes with your daily activities. Certain treatments, such as cholinesterase inhibitors, have been developed to boost the effectiveness of acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that assists memory, thought and judgment, but the researchers found no strong evidence that they work.
The researchers also found that herbal supplements, such as gingko, or vitamins and fatty acids, such as vitamin B6 or omega-3 fatty acids, did nothing to improve cognitive functions. Some oestrogen studies actually revealed that the hormone treatment made cognitive decline and dementia worse. The scientists also looked into evidence on the value of physical exercise, such as strength-training, but found the results to be weak.
There was potentially some value found in mental exercises. It was in computerised training programs and intensive one-on-one personal cognitive training in memory, reasoning, or speed of processing, that the strongest evidence was found. Dr Naqvi urged future studies to address the impact of cognitive training on the prevention of cognitive decline. ‘We encourage researchers to consider easily accessible tools such as crossword puzzles and sudoko that have not been rigorously studied. The studies in this review that assessed cognitive exercises used exercises that were both labour- and resource-intensive, and thus may not be applicable to most of our patients,’ he said.