New Predictors of Cognitive Decline

From Whole Health Insider

By Larissa Long

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 5.2 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease. As the population of older Americans continues to grow, this number is estimated to reach over seven million in 2025. Jump ahead to the year 2050, and we’re looking at a staggering prediction: Barring the discovery of a cure, almost 14 million will be afflicted with this insidious form of dementia.

Unfortunately, finding a cure for dementias has proven to be quite elusive. Hopefully increased funding in this area will greatly fuel these efforts in the years to come.1

In the meantime, prevention is your best defense—and new findings have revealed a fascinating connection between heart disease risk factors and dementia. In this study out of France, researchers determined that the tools used to calculate the risk of heart disease and stroke can also predict the future decline of cognition and memory.2

The Brain-Heart Connection

Researchers compared two different risk calculators: the Framingham general cardiovascular/stroke risk score and the cardiovascular risk factors, aging and dementia risk score (CAIDE), which estimates the risk of late-life dementia using midlife risk factors.

Using male and female participants (mean age 55.6), researchers also conducted cognitive tests three times over a 10-year period that included reasoning, memory, verbal fluency, vocabulary, and global cognition.

Interestingly, the researchers found that, compared to CAIDE, the Framingham cardiovascular and stroke risk scores showed “slightly stronger associations with 10-year cognitive decline.”

They concluded, “The CAIDE dementia and Framingham risk scores predict cognitive decline in late middle age, but the Framingham risk scores may have an advantage over the dementia risk score for use in primary prevention for assessing risk or cognitive decline and targeting of modifiable risk factors.”

If you’re concerned about cognitive decline, talk to your doctor about assessing your risk using these calculators.

Boost Your Brain Power

Whether or not you’re deemed high-risk for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, acting now to support healthy brain function can go a long way in preventing problems down the road.

Many nutrients have been studied for their ability to support cognitive health. Here are just a few of the well-researched options to keep your brain working at its peak:

B vitamins—In one study, 274 people (aged 65-79) who had normal cognition were assessed for serum levels of folate and holotranscobalamin (the biologically active fraction of vitamin B12). After seven years, the scientists reevaluated these people for various levels of cognitive performance. They found that higher levels of these two B vitamins were associated with enhanced performance in key cognitive tests.3

Choline—Choline is the precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Loss of neurons that utilize acetylcholine is associated with reduced memory and cognition. In a study of 1,391 adults between 36 and 83 years of age, researchers found that higher choline intake was linked to enhanced performance in verbal and visual memory.4

Chromium picolinate—Research suggests that this trace mineral is important for maintaining cognitive function in older adults. In one study, participants receiving chromium showed improvement in learning, recall and recognition memory tasks. In addition, functional magnetic resonance imaging indicated that the chromium users had increased activation in specific areas of the brain, as compared to placebo.5

Curcumin—The principle component in the spice turmeric, curcumin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and it prevents accumulation of alpha-synuclein, a protein expressed primarily in the brain that induces the formation of microtubule-associated protein tau. When tau proteins are defective or don’t do their job effectively, it can increase your risk for dementia and/or Alzheimer’s.6

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)—In one study, rats were treated with the neurotoxin aluminum, which caused poor retention of memory, oxidative damage in the brain and increased acetylcholinesterase activity. (Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain that plays a key role in memory, learning and other brain functions.) However, pretreating the rats with NAC resulted in significantly improved memory retention, decreased oxidative damage and reduced acetylcholinesterase activity.7

Phosphatidylserine (PS)—This phospholipid is necessary for building cell membranes, especially in neurons, and forming acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter that plays an integral role in short-term memory. It is one of the most researched nutrients of all time, backed by 64 clinical studies and more than 2,800 research papers. Specifically, PS plays a key role in several brain functions, including memory, learning, recall, concentration and vocabulary, and has been clinically shown to roll back cognitive decline by 12 years and improve memory by 44 percent.

Finally, exercise—both physical and mental—also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline in older adults. If you don’t get regular physical exercise, start by going for regular walks or bike rides, and slowly add strength or resistance training to your routine. Or join a gym and commit to going most days of the week.

In addition, flex your mental muscle by incorporating crossword puzzles, word finds, Sudoku and other brain-challenging activities into your day.


  2. Kaffashian S, et al. Neurology. 2013 Apr 2;80(14):1300-6.
  3. Hooshmand B, et al. J Intern Med. 2012 Feb;271(2):204-12.
  4. Poly C, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Dec;94(6):1584-91.
  5. Krikorian R, et al. Nutr Neurosci. 2010 Jun;13(3):116-22.
  6. Ahmad B, et al. J Biol Chem. 2012;12:9193-9.
  7. Prakash A and Kumar A. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2009 Aug;105(2):98-104.


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