Age-related memory loss and mild cognitive impairment may be more common in men in their 70s and 80s than in women, a new Mayo Clinic study has found.
That may be bad news for men, but the study also found some intriguing good news: About one-third of the participants initially diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment were able to improve their brain function back to normal at a later checkup.
The researchers aren’t exactly sure why this improvement occurred, although it has been noted before in other studies, but at least one geriatric expert says it’s evidence of the brain’s ability to overcome some damage.
An accompanying editorial in the journal of Neurology by Kenneth Rockwood, M.D., a professor of geriatric medicine at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says in some cases, the brain can actually repair itself.
Physical exercise has been shown to improve brain function in men, he wrote, and studies have shown that cognitive training — doing mentally stimulating exercises like problem-solving and puzzles — can also improve brain function.
In the study, researchers examined a group of 1,450 men and women ages 70 to 89 in Minnesota who, at the start of the study, had no signs of dementia or cognitive problems. The participants were given neurological evaluations every 15 months for an average of three and a half years.
By the end of the study, about 7.2 percent of the men and 5.7 percent of the women developed mild cognitive impairment, often considered a precursor to Alzheimer’s. New cases of dementia were also found more often among men, about 72 cases per 1,000 people versus 57 cases for women.
However, men who were married or had higher educational levels had lower rates of cognitive problems than did single men or those with less than a high school education.
What that means, as lead researcher R.O. Roberts of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told National Public Radio, is that people can reduce their risk of memory loss and cognitive impairment by staying healthy and educated. “There is a lot that people can do.”
In other health news:
Here’s how to predict if you’ll have a fatal or serious heart attack or stroke. If at age 45 you have two or more of either high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or smoking, and you’re a man, there’s a 50-50 risk you will have a heart attack or stroke during your remaining life, says a study by cardiologists at Northwestern University’s school of medicine. Women with two risk factors have a 30 percent chance.
It’s not the frying, it’s the oil you use. Eating fried food may not be bad for your heart if you use olive or sunflower oil, researchers say. The study of nearly 41,000 adults in Spain found they had a much lower rate of heart disease despite eating a lot of fried food. The difference between them and us? They fry in olive or sunflower oil, while our fried food tends to be made with hydrogenated vegetable oil (solid vegetable shortening) or re-used oils that have trans fats that raise cholesterol.
Even though exercise helps pain, many with arthritis remain inactive. More than two of five adults with rheumatoid arthritis remain physically inactive, unconvinced that regular exercise will help their pain, a Northwestern University study shows. “Physicians often do not encourage regular physical activity” for their arthritis patients, even though there is much evidence that it helps, researchers said.