By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
On the heels of a recent study, which shows one serving of seafood a week could stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia, comes a new study that shows the risk of developing dementia has dropped by 20 percent per decade since the late 1970s.
Both of these studies released this month, are promising.
To study the impact that one-serving-of-seafood a week has on the brain, researchers in the first study surveyed a group of older adults in the Chicago area, asking about their diet every year starting in 1997. In this new study that is in the February Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers performed brain autopsies on 286 participants – (those who died between 2004 and 2013), in an effort to understand the complicated relationship between seafood, fatty acids, mercury and dementia.
The point was to look at the levels of mercury and whether there was neurological damage indicative of dementia. There was indeed more mercury in the brains of participants who reported eating more seafood. But, it did not appear to have any effect on whether there was neurological damage. Instead, participants who reported eating seafood at least once a week were less likely to have hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, including amyloid plaques, in their brain.
“One theory is that seafood consumption may be more beneficial in older age because, as we age, we lose DHA in the brain,” a molecule that is important to maintain brain health, said lead author Martha Clare Morris, director of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology at Rush University Medical Center.
The researchers did not drill down to find out all the types of fish participants ate. Specifically, this study found the benefit of eating seafood for brain health maxes out at one serving per week. More than that did not provide participants with any additional protection from the types of brain damage associated with dementia.
“The evidence is quite clear that people who consume healthier forms of fish [which are baked or broiled rather than fried] are going to end up with healthier brains,” said James T. Becker, professor of psychiatry and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in this current study.
Meanwhile, a second new study shows that dementia is on the decline, with the risk of developing it dropping 20 percent per decade since the late 1970s, when data was first collected.
The problem is this. While this new study showed that the risk of developing dementia is declining, this means there are more aging baby boomers. So dementia cases will surge to record levels, because there are more older people who are living longer, according to this new study published Feb. 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine
While these findings provide hope and may launch added research that will prevent or delay some cases of dementia, it relies on research from the famous Framingham, Mass., a predominantly white suburb located 20 miles west of Boston. According to 2010 census records, Framingham has a total population of 68,318 people. Blacks make up 3,993 of the total population compared to 65.3 percent white, 0.8 percent Native American, and 6.3 percent Asian.
Because this new study uses data from The Framingham study, a long-term, ongoing cardiovascular study that began in 1948 with 5,209 adult subjects from Framingham, and is now on its third generation of participants.
This study is promising. But researchers did not study a diverse population.
So it remains to be seen whether the trend in this new study, which shows a decline in dementia per decade, is true across racial groups. In this study, the effect was only seen in people who had at least a high school education. It also does not mean the same thing is happening in other communities in the world.
Of the study’s potential impact, lead author Sudha Seshadri, a professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, asked, “Can we, a couple of decades down the road, bend the arc? … Stroke used to be the second leading cause of death, and now it’s the fifth. Maybe we can do this for dementia, too.”
In an accompanying editorial, David Jones of Harvard Medical School and Jeremy Greene of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine wrote, “Even if death and taxes remain inevitable, cancer, CAD [coronary artery disease], and dementia may not.”
Even in the early stages of dementia, a person can become disoriented or confused. Plan ahead and be on the lookout for the following warning signs:
1. Returns from a regular walk or drive later than usual
2. Tries to fulfill former obligations, such as going to work
3. Tries or wants to “go home,” even when at home
4. Is restless, paces or makes repetitive movements
5. Has difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
6. Asks the whereabouts of current or past friends and family
7. Acts as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done
8. Appears lost in a new or changed environment