New Study Looks At Link Between The ‘MIND’ Diet And The Improvement Of Cognitive Skills In The Elderly

Better Aging

Getting older is something that everyone will have to deal with at some point in their life. Aging is also something that takes a toll on the body and mind in one way or another as well. One example of this is when the aging tissue of the human brain can grow otherwise abnormal clumps of protein, which can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Considering that over 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, with an estimation that this number will rise to 13 million by the year 2050, it’s one of the most prevalent neurodegenerative diseases not only in America, but all over the world. So the question remains, how can individuals protect their brains from this type of disease?

According to research from the Rush University Medical Center, they discovered that older adults could possibly benefit from a particular diet known as the MIND diet. And even more incredible is that this diet can still help despite the development of the protein deposits that are otherwise known as amyloid plaques and tangles. These are a type of pathology that are found within the brain ‘that build up in between the nerve cells and typically interfere with thinking and problem-solving skills.’

The MIND diet was developed by a Rush nutritional epidemiologist, the late Martha Clare Morris ScD, alongside her colleagues. The diet is described as a hybrid of the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterraneandiets. Former research also found that the MIND diet could possibly lessen a person’s risk of eventually developing Alzheimer’s disease dementia.

Recent research has found that the participants in the study that were made to follow the MIND diet moderately didn’t end up with cognitive problems later on in life.

According to lead author of the paper and assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine at Rush Medical College, Klodian Dhana, MD, PhD, “Some people have enough plaques and tangles in their brains to have a postmortem diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, but they do not develop clinical dementia in their lifetime.”

He added, “Some have the ability to maintain cognitive function despite the accumulation of these pathologies in the brain, and our study suggest that the MIND diet is associated with better cognitive functions independently of brain pathologies related to Alzheimer’s disease.”


Improved Brain Functioning

For this new study, the research group looked at the associations of diet, from the start of the study until death, the ‘brain pathologies and cognitive functioning in older adults who participated in the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s ongoing Memory and Aging Project that started back in 1997 and included individuals living in the greater Chicago area. The study participants were described to be white without known dementia, with all of them agreeing to undergo annual clinical evaluations while they were alive, while also agreeing to undergo a brain autopsy at the time of their death.

The study included 569 participants that were asked to complete yearly evaluations and cognitive tests in order to see if they had developed any thinking and memory problems. At the start of 2004, the participants were provided an annual food frequency questionnaire that asked how often they consumed 144 particular food items during the previous year.

The researchers took the questionnaire answers and gave each individual participant a MIND diet score based on how many times or how often they ate specific foods on the list. The MIND diet consists of 15 dietary components, 10 of which are “brain-healthy food groups” while the other five are unhealthy groups that include cheese, red meat, butter and stick margarine, fried or fast food, and pastries and sweets.

For the participants to comply and benefit from the diet, they would need to eat the following: ‘three serving of whole grains, a green leafy vegetable and one other vegetable every day – along with a glass of wine – snack most days on nuts, have beans every other day or so, eat poultry and berries at least twice a week and a fish at least once a week. A person also must limit intake of the designated unhealthy foods, limiting butter to less than 1 ½ teaspoons a day and eating less than a serving a week of sweets and pastries, whole fat cheese, and fried or fast food.’

The research group calculated the MIND diet score for every participant across the study period based on the frequency of intake that was reported for the healthy and unhealthy food groups. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Moreover, the MIND diet score average from the start of the study until the participants’ death was also used during the analysis to lessen the measurement errors, if any. Also, there were seven sensitivity measures that were calculated to confirm the accuracy of the study findings.

Prof. Dhana explained, “We found that a higher MIND diet score was associated with better memory and thinking skills independently of Alzheimer’s disease pathology and other common age-related brain pathologies. The diet seemed to have a protective capacity and may contribute to cognitive resilience in the elderly.”

He added, “Diet changes can impact cognitive functioning and risk of dementia, for better or worse. There are fairly simple diet and lifestyle changes a person could make that may help to slow cognitive decline with aging, and contribute to brain health.”