Holistic approach could delay progression of degenerative brain disease, says professor
Music, dance, diet and exercise may be keys to slowing down dementia by up to five years, a New Zealand research group believes.
Brain Research NZ, a new collaborative centre of research excellence led by Auckland and Otago Universities, wants to recruit people later this year who have the first signs of dementia so that they can start a five-year "holistic" programme.
"I'm not just talking a single-drug therapy," said the centre's co-director Professor Richard Faull. "We know there are some drugs which may help to prolong and slow down degeneration.
"But we also know that certain foods - vitamin B, omega 3 - and exercise, music and cognitive therapy, if you put all those together, we know from overseas studies and our own studies that they can actually slow down the progression of the disease."
He said it would take two years to enrol about 150 patients and carry out blood tests, psychological tests and magnetic resonance imaging of their brains.
"Then we have to bring together a package of therapy which may involve, for example, music, dance, all kinds of stimulation, computer games."
He said there was recent evidence that degeneration could be slowed by vitamin B, found in many unprocessed foods, and omega 3, found in fish and some plants. But in general, every food that was good for the heart was good for the brain.
"Above all else, what is really critical is keeping your brain stimulated with the things that you enjoy doing in life. It may be playing the piano, it may be reading," he said.
"Socialisation is also very important, staying in touch with people."
He said the programme could not help people with advanced dementia.
"It's impossible to turn around a person who is well advanced in terms of dementia or Alzheimer's disease because when they get into an advanced stage over a third of the brain has degenerated.
"So we are going to attack it right at the very earliest symptoms. If we slow down the progression of the disease by five years, we would cut the prevalence of Alzheimer's in New Zealand by 50 per cent because people would live longer and die of non-brain-related diseases."