Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature
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It reversed cognitive decline in a study of mice and could pave the way to helping humans reverse the impact of the disease. In experiments on ageing mice, Australian researchers found exercising for 35 days straight was the “sweet spot” for mice. They are now hoping to use it to tailor specific exercise durations on reversing the effects of dementia.
The new study was led by researchers at the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), the University of Queensland.
Study author Dr Dan Blackmore said: “We tested the cognitive ability of elderly mice following defined periods of exercise and found an optimal period or ‘sweet spot’ that greatly improved their spatial learning.”
Dementia is caused by damage to or loss of nerve cells, known as neutrons.
They carry electrical impulses from one place to another, transmitting information through electrical and chemical signals.
It is imperative that new neutrons are grown to maintain cognitive ability.
This includes the hippocampus – a seahorse-shaped brain region responsible for learning, emotions and memory.
Dr Blackmore added: “Hippocampal function is critical for spatial and contextual learning, and its decline with age contributes to cognitive impairment.”
In the experiments, the researchers tested mice aged from 10 weeks to 24 months on the active place avoidance (APA) task.
This tests the spatial navigation and memory of rodents.
The 18-month-old and 24-month-old mice performed significantly worse than their younger counterparts over a five-day period.
But after being housed in a cage with access to exercise equipment – such as a running wheel – they significantly improved their performance.
In further experiments, the team were able to explore how the production of new neurons changed the circuitry in the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
MRI showed that improved spatial learning was due to enhanced connectivity in the dentate gyrus (DG), part of the hippocampal formation of the brain.
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Dr Blackmore added: “Using MRI, we were able to study the brain following exercise, and for the first time identify the critical changes in the structure and functional circuitry of the hippocampus required for improved spatial learning.”
There are currently 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, an all-time high.
This number is projected to increase even further.
And 52 percent of the UK public, 34.5 million people, know someone who has been diagnosed with a form of dementia.
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