The Link Between Cognitive Function and Sexuality in Older Adults

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

The number of people who live at home with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), a brain disease that causes abnormal changes that kill brain cells, is expected to grow from 3.2 million today to more than 8 million in 2050.

Experts agree that we know very little about sexuality among people living at home with AD or other cognitive problems. Older adults who have cognitive problems that impact the way they think and make decisions may ask physicians to help managing sexual problems. And caregivers may ask physicians about sexuality in the older adults for whom they provide care.

One frequently asked question is: Do older adults always have the capacity to consent to sexual activity?

Researchers have previously shown that the majority of people aged 57 to 85 have a spouse or other intimate partner and, among those with a partner, most are sexually active. Having an active sexual life is linked to better physical and mental health, higher quality of life, and lower rates of loneliness.

To learn more about the connection between sexuality and cognitive status, researchers designed a new study. They analyzed data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project to learn more about the relationship between sexual behavior, function, and cognition (people’s ability to think and make decisions). Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Personality Changes During Transition to Developing Mild Cognitive Impairment

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

A key feature of Alzheimer’s disease is memory loss and losing one’s ability to think and make decisions (also called “cognitive ability”). Those changes can begin slowly, during a phase called “mild cognitive impairment” (or MCI). A variety of diseases can cause MCI, but the most common is Alzheimer’s disease.

Not all people who have MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease—but if memory loss is a person’s key MCI symptom, and if that person’s genes (DNA) suggests they may be likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the risk for the condition can be as high as 90 percent.

Personality changes and behavior problems that come with Alzheimer’s disease are as troubling as memory loss and other mental difficulties for caregivers and those living with the condition. Mayo Clinic researchers wondered if personality changes that begin early, when MCI memory loss becomes noticeable, might help predict Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stages. The researchers created a study to test their theory and published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Can Special Training Improve Memory and Thinking Abilities in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment?

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Cognition is the ability to think and make decisions. Medication-free treatments that maintain cognitive health as we age are attracting the attention of medical experts. Maintaining the ability to think clearly and make decisions is crucial to older adults’ well-being and vitality.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition that affects people who are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI may have mild memory loss or other difficulties completing tasks that involve cognitive abilities. MCI may eventually develop into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Depression and anxiety also can accompany MCI. Having these conditions can increase the risk of mental decline as people age.

A new, first-of-its-kind study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society by scientists from research centers in Montreal and Quebec City, Canada. They designed a study to learn whether cognitive training, a medication-free treatment, could improve MCI. Studies show that activities that stimulate your brain, such as cognitive training, can protect against a decline in your mental abilities. Even older adults who have MCI can still learn and use new mental skills.

For their study, researchers recruited 145 older adults around the age of 72 from Canadian memory clinics. The participants had been diagnosed with MCI, and were assigned to one of three groups. Each group included four or five participants, and met for eight weekly sessions for 120 minutes.

The three groups were:

  • Cognitive training group. Members of this group participated in the MEMO program (MEMO stands for a French phrase that translates to “training method for optimal memory”). They received special training to improve their memory and attention span.
  • Psycho-social group. Participants in this group were encouraged to improve their general well-being. They learned to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and find ways to increase positive situations.
  • Control group. Participants had no contact with researchers and didn’t follow a program.

During the time the training sessions took place, 128 of the participants completed the project. After six months, 104 completed all the sessions they were assigned.

People in the MEMO group increased their memory scores by 35 to 40 percent, said Sylvie Belleville, PhD, a senior author of the study. “Most importantly, they maintained their scores over a six-month period.”

What’s more, the improvement was the largest for older adults with “delayed recall.” This means memory for words measured just 10 minutes after people have studied them. Because delayed memory is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, this was a key finding.

Those who participated in the MEMO group said they used the training they learned in their daily lives. The training gave them different ways to remember things. For example, they learned to use visual images to remember names of new people, and to use associations to remember shopping lists. These lessons allowed them to continue maintaining their memory improvements after the study ended.

The people in the psycho-social group and the control group didn’t experience memory benefits or improvement in their mood.

This summary is from “MEMO+: efficacy, durability and impact of cognitive training and psychosocial intervention in MCI.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Sylvie Belleville, PhD; Carol Hudon, PhD; Nathalie Bier, PhD; Catherine Brodeur, MD; Brigitte Gilbert, PhD; Sébastien Grenier, PhD; Marie-Christine Ouellet, PhD; Chantal Viscogliosi, PhD; and Serge Gauthier, MD.

For Older Adults with Diabetes, Losing Weight through Diet and Exercise Can Improve Blood Circulation in the Brain

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Type 2 diabetes affects blood circulation. The disease stiffens blood vessels and reduces the amount of oxygen that circulates throughout your body. This includes your brain. When blood flow in the brain is impaired, it can affect the way we think and make decisions.

People who have type 2 diabetes are often overweight or obese. These are conditions that may also be linked to cognitive problems (problems with thinking abilities). Lowering calorie intake and increasing physical activity are known to reduce the negative effects of type 2 diabetes on the body. However, the effects of these interventions on cognition and the brain are not clear.

Recently, researchers examined information from a 10-year-long study called Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD). In this study, participants learned how to adopt healthy, long-term behavior changes. In their new study, the researchers focused on whether participants with type 2 diabetes who lowered calories in their diet and increased physical activity had better blood flow to the brain. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Mediterranean-Style Diets Linked to Better Brain Function in Older Adults

JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Eating foods included in two healthy diets—the Mediterranean or the MIND diet—is linked to a lower risk for memory difficulties in older adults, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, nuts, olive oil and fish. Processed foods, fried and fast foods, snack foods, red meat, poultry and whole-fat dairy foods are infrequently eaten on the Mediterranean diet.

The MIND diet is a version of the Mediterranean diet that includes 15 types of foods. Ten are considered “brain-healthy:” green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil, and wine. Five are considered unhealthy: red meat, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries, sweets and fried/fast foods.

Researchers examined information from 5,907 older adults who participated in the Health and Retirement Study. The participants filled out questionnaires about their eating habits. Researchers then measured the participants’ cognitive abilities—mostly on their memory and attention skills. Continue reading