Cognitive ability is an aspect of mental health that deals with attention, processing of information and memory.
As a person ages, there is often a decline in the cognitive ability. Therefore, in addition to a reduction in physical capacity in old age, the decrease in mental function makes the person more dependent on caregivers as time passes.
With increasing medical facilities, people live for longer periods. It is necessary to ensure their mental functions are stable so that they can enjoy their old age as well as not lose their independence completely.
A study is being planned that will introduce two interventions - aerobic exercise
or Mediterranean diet, or a combination of both in senior citizens of Australia and check if these interventions will slow down cognitive decline.
Some studies indicate that the degree of cognitive impairment in older adults may depend on the level of physical activity by the individual. A simple walking program depending on the physical ability of the person may be enough to delay cognitive decline. This effect of exercise in senior citizens may be due to its ability to control conditions like diabetes, hypertension
and cardiovascular disease, thereby reducing their damaging effects on the brain. Exercise may also directly affect brain function and help in maintaining structure and reducing brain shrinkage.
A Mediterranean diet is considered as one of the healthiest diets available. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are attributed to the ingredients which are a mix of plenty of vegetables, nuts, whole grains, with moderate amounts of fish and some poultry, and a generous dose of olive oil. Studies have indicated that this diet is good for the brain, heart and blood vessels, and protects against cancer. The Mediterranean diet
may also be useful in preventing cognitive decline. The anti-oxidants in the diet as well as its anti-inflammatory properties could also protect against age-related damage to tissues, though this has not been confirmed.
Given the possible beneficial effects of exercise and Mediterranean diet on cognitive decline and overall health, it is likely that a combination of the two will have even more beneficial effects.
The study will be conducted on the elderly population of Australia between the ages of 60 and 90 years living in aged-care facilities but capable of taking care of their own needs from the physical as well as mental aspects. The participants will be tested for depression prior to their inclusion in the study. They will be exposed for 6 months to increased walking, a Mediterranean diet or a combination of two.
Thus, there will be one group of people who will not undergo either of the interventions, the second which will have to do a prescribed amount of exercise, the third which will be put on the Mediterranean diet, and the fourth which will incorporate the required changes in their diet and physical activity level.
Before the study, a baseline cognitive assessment will be made, which will be repeated at the end of 6 months. The cognitive ability will be measured using the Swinburne University Computerised Cognitive Assessment Battery (SUCCAB). The researchers will also do several blood tests, to assess the possible mechanism of the benefits of the interventions, if any. Other benefits like effect on mood, quality of life, cardiovascular function and general well-being of the participants will also be recorded.
The data obtained will be analyzed and tested statistically for significance. If the results are positive, these interventions of Mediterranean diet and increase in physical activity could be introduced on a larger scale in the future.
Hardman RJ, Kennedy G, Macpherson H, Scholey AB and Pipingas A. A randomised controlled trial investigating the effects of Mediterranean diet and aerobic exercise on cognition in cognitively healthy older people living independently within aged care facilities: the Lifestyle Intervention in Independent Living Aged Care (LIILAC) study protocol [ACTRN12614001133628]. Nutrition Journal 2015, 14:53 doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0042-z