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A healthy diet could be key in slowing the rate of dementia for at-risk seniors, according to a new study.

A healthy diet could be key in slowing the rate of dementia for at-risk seniors, according to a new study.

With more and more Baby Boomers growing into old age, the number of Americans struggling with dementia and Alzheimer's disease is unfortunately projected to keep growing as well. However, new research indicates that seniors at risk for developing dementia may be able to slow their rate of declining brain health simply by eating a healthy diet, practicing brain exercises and engaging in consistent physical activity.

The study team, led by Miia Kivipelto, a professor at Stockholm's Karolinsk Institute, evaluated 1,260 people in Finland between the ages of 60 and 77 that demonstrated risk factors for dementia. Over the next two years, those participants collaborated with doctors and other health professionals to practice better eating, exercise and brain workouts, as well as learn about how to manage certain "metabolic and circulatory risk factors for dementia." By the end of that two-year period, the subjects who had followed through on these behaviors exhibited an overall 25 percent higher score on mental functioning tests.

In some areas of the testing, the people who ate better, worked out and exercised their brain demonstrated enormous progress compared to the control group, posting an 83 percent higher score in executive functioning and 150 percent higher in mental processing speed.

Kivipelto's team plans to follow up with this group for another seven years, to determine if these benefits are only short-lived or still end up slowing the rate of dementia-caused cognitive decline in the long term.

"Much previous research has shown that there are links between [thinking] decline in older people and factors such as diet, heart health and fitness," Kivipelto said in an official statement, issued by The Lancet. "However, our study is the first large randomized, controlled trial to show that an intensive program aimed at addressing these risk factors might be able to prevent decline in elderly people who are at risk of dementia."

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