Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports that blueberry vinegar – oddly enough – improves brain function in mice with induced amnesia, raising distant hopes that it might one day yield a treatment for dementia.
Such expectations, however, may well be forlorn – at least if a major systematic review of available interventions for cognitive decline is any indication.
The review – comprising four separate papers published in the Annals of Internal Medicine – concludes that no existing treatment involving drugs or behaviour can mitigate, much less prevent, the onset and progression of late-life dementia.
To conduct the review, scientists from the Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Centre (EPC) in the US collated published studies into dementia treatments, dividing them into four categories: those involving physical activity, cognitive training, vitamins and supplements, and prescribed medication.
All up, the exercise encompassed 215 clinical trials. The conclusions in each category have a depressing consistency – in every field evidence that the interventions had any effect at all was “insufficient”.
The best results – although still a long way from stellar – are found in the domain of physical exercise. The researchers found that no single activity had any effect on the progress of dementia, but “a multi-domain intervention comprising physical activity, diet, and cognitive training improved several cognitive outcomes”.
Evidence for this outcome, however, was classified as “low-strength”.
In an accompanying editorial, Washington DC-based Alzheimer’s investigator Eric Larson concludes that “all evidence indicates that there is no magic bullet.”
He adds that “engaging in cognitively stimulating activities and avoiding social isolation also are probably beneﬁcial” for Alzheimer’s patients.
And in a notable application of cold (albeit evidence-based) comfort, he reminds readers that a healthy lifestyle and diet may not on the findings to date do much to alleviate dementia, but at least “none of these recommendations has harmful side effects”.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
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