Read, eat well and keep spirits high to avoid dementia
This is the usual groan-inducing epidemiological speculation. People who are not very good at reading get more dementia. What do we conclude from that? Could it be that people who already have some cognitive defect (as indexed by reading score) are more likely to develop greater cognitive defects later on? Does reading a lot reduce cognitive defects or do cognitive defects reduce reading?
And that's just for starters. We know that high IQ people are healthier in general and that they are very good at reading so is it just an effect of IQ that we are seeing?
And the fruit and veg "effect" is far too tiny to permit any causal inferences. I could go on...
Keeping one's brain active, trying not to become depressed and eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables are the best ways to ward off developing dementia, a study of almost 1,500 volunteers has found.
If younger people were to follow such advice, millions worldwide could avoid or postpone the debilitating condition in old age, the research suggests. The combined effects would far outstrip the theoretical possibility of eliminating a gene known to increase the chance of dementia, according to the study, published today in the British Medical Journal.
Dr Karen Ritchie, a neuropsychologist at the French National Institute of Medical Research, led a team who assessed how the cognitive ability of 1,433 pensioners in Montpellier changed over a seven-year period.
They asked them a series of questions about their lifestyle, medical history and educational background, as well as carrying out reading tests.
Their results indicate that how much intellectual exercise a person takes has an enormous effect on their likelihood of developing dementia. Those with lower reading scores were 18 per cent more likely to develop "mild cognitive impairment or dementia" – the former widely seen as a forerunner of the latter.
Those with depression were 10 per cent more likely to develop it; while those who ate fruit and vegetables less than twice a day were 6.5 per cent more likely to do so. Having diabetes was also a significant factor, leading to a five per cent higher risk than those without.
By comparison, possessing a particular gene associated with dementia increased the risk by seven per cent.
With 820,000 currently living with dementia in Britain, a number forecast to double by 2050, the report's authors point out that "even small reductions in incidence, or delaying the age of onset, are likely to have significant effects on prevalence and the enormous associated public health burden".
While studies have identified such risk factors before, they have not quantified their relative impact.
Although the bare statistics indicated intellectual activity was the most important factor, the study noted it was difficult to prise apart how much a good reading score was based on genetics and how much on upbringing.
In the absence of an answer, "the public health message can only be to encourage literacy at all ages irrespective of innate ability," the academics concluded.
Similarly, while depression was strongly linked to developing dementia, "the causal relation ... remains unclear". If it was an early sign of dementia rather than a direct trigger, they warned, treating it would not necessarily offer protection.
Getting people to eat more fruit and vegetables was also difficult, they accepted.
With such problems they concluded the most practical short-term solution was tackling diabetes, which previous studies have confirmed to be a causal factor.
Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "Effective prevention of diabetes, depression and heart disease could potentially improve the lives of millions of people affected by this cruel condition and reduce the billions spent on dementia care each year.
"With the numbers of people with dementia rising quickly it is important that everyone manages their own risk and that as a society we invest in further dementia research that will one day help us find a cure."
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, added: "What is painfully evident from the study is the gaping hole that remains in our understanding and ability to diagnose or treat dementia effectively, a hole that can only be filled by more research.”
Prayers really can heal the sick, finds international study
I had to laugh when I saw this one. It will steam up a lot of Leftists. It's certainly not a controlled study but it probably does show the power of faith. Not all faith-healing is "rigged" and third world people (who were studied) generally seem to be religious. Hypnosis sometimes achieves similar results also
The power of prayer really can help to heal the sick, an international study has found - especially if the well-wisher is standing near the person they are praying for. Researchers say the vision and hearing of patients in their tests improved after healing practitioners prayed for them.
One elderly woman who could not see a person's hand when they held two fingers up in front of her face from a foot away is said to have been cured after a healer placed their hands over her eyes and prayed for less than one minute.
The tests were carried out by a team from Indiana university, led by religious studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown, who were looking into 'proximal prayer' - or prayers near the patient.
However, experts at the National Secular Society branded the research 'highly suspect.' Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS, said: 'This is a highly suspect study, based on vague results in places where checking would be impossible. There is a quite obvious religious motivation which undermines its impartiality.
'The fact is that all properly conducted studies of healing through prayer have shown it to be ineffective or even, in one instance, counterproductive.'
Professor Brown and her colleagues carried out the study as part of a research programme on the cultural significance and experience of spiritual healing practices. She said: 'We chose to investigate 'proximal' prayer because that is how a lot of prayer for healing is actually practiced by Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. '
The team studied the impact of 'healers' on disadvantaged people with vision or hearing impairments in Mozambique and Brazil. They evaluated 14 rural Mozambican subjects who reported poor hearing and 11 who said they had failing sight, both before and after the subjects received proximal intercessory prayer (PIP).
An audiometer and vision charts were used for a direct measure of improvement rather than relying on whether the people said they felt better.
The researchers found that two subjects with impaired hearing reduced the threshold at which they could detect sound by 50 decibels and three subjects had their tested vision improve from 20/400 or worse to 20/80 or better.
Professor Brown said one subject, an elderly Mozambican woman named Maryam, initially reported that she could not see a person's hand with two upraised fingers from a distance of one foot.
A healing practitioner put her hand on Maryam's eyes, hugged her and prayed for less than a minute then held five fingers in front of her. Afterwards she was able to count them and even read the 20/125 line on a vision chart. A follow-up study by the researchers in Brazil revealed similar findings.
Professor Brown said her study, which will be published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal, focused on the clinical effects of PIP and did not attempt to explain the mechanisms by which the improvements occurred.
But Mr Sanderson, from the NSS, added: 'This study, as it describes itself, is unscientific and therefore of no worth beyond its use as religious propaganda. 'It exploits the desperation of people living in extreme poverty who are unable to access proper medical care in order to bring them under the influence of these Pentecostal churches.'