Delaying mental decline as we age

Published 12:08 am Monday, October 14, 2013

Sadly, the No. 1 killer of Americans today remains cardiac-related diseases.

What makes that so discouraging is that there may not be a rational person in this country who does not know that a poor diet, overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and failure to exercise all contribute to both weight gain and less than optimal health.

Making excuses year after year about not having time to exercise is so much easier than finding 30-minutes a day to just do it, and that’s a prevailing attitude in America today with 66 percent of our population overweight.

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Our growing waistlines are just one indicator of the problem. Other problems like a heart attack, stroke, organ problems, hip or knee problems, or a diagnosis of diabetes aren’t something you realize until they happen. Drugs may help you to stay alive longer, but is that the quality of life you want?

But there’s another aspect that needs to be considered as medical miracles continue to extend our lives in spite of our disregard for our health – mental decline, normal memory loss and dementia. While age remains the number one contributing factor to dementia, most likely in the form of Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia has been associated with physical conditions including high blood pressure, plaque build-up in artery walls, diabetes and the incidence of strokes, all of which are highly correlated with obesity and the lack of a proper diet and exercise.

A three-year study of 638 seniors that lived independently, with an average age of 74 provided some not surprising results that were subsequently reported in the online edition of STROKE. Of the study participants, 408 of them stated that they were physically active for at least 30-minutes a day, three days a week in gym classes with stretching, cardio exercises, biking or walking.

The results of the study showed a marked delay in mental decline among those who exercised regularly – a 50 percent reduction in the risk of vascular-related dementia and a 60 percent risk reduction for cognitive impairment. Those are impressive results, and will hopefully provide a wakeup call to many boomers and seniors who just seem to be waiting for “the big one” to send them the message that it’s time to take action and get into shape.

While the researchers found that exercise delayed both vascular and cognitive forms of dementia, they also admitted that while exercise did not eliminate the risk of developing dementia later in life. So if your mantra is that everyone has to die of something sooner or later, I guess for you this news about taking personal responsibility for your own healthy future may be seen as a Pyrrhic victory where the cost of winning is exceeded by the price you pay to do so.

Without a consistent exercise program, perhaps just walking, you may never know just how good you might feel and how much better life might be for you.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert on Medicare, the ACA (Obamacare) and Issues of Aging. His consulting practice serves clients in Henderson, Polk and Brevard counties. He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease,” available as a Kindle book on and at the Polk County Senior Center.

His podcasts can be heard weekly at Contact him at 828-696-9799 or by email at