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Seniors With Mental Declines May Face Earlier Death

Those with memory loss fared better than those who showed deficits in thinking abilities

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The study involved 2,154 people living in Olmsted County, Minn., between the ages of 70 and 89. Of those participants, 862 had memory or thinking problems and 1,292 had no problems with their mental abilities.

These seniors were followed for nearly six years. They took tests at the start of the study and every 15 months thereafter to assess their thought and memory abilities.

Over six years, 38 percent of the people with mild mental decline died, compared with 17 percent of the group without mental decline.

As people age, they suffer from many health problems that wear at both mind and body, said study author Dr. Maria Vassilaki, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"We know we have risk factors for mild cognitive impairment like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and stroke that also could increase mortality," Vassilaki said.

While there are no approved medications for mental decline, people who tackle these chronic illnesses can improve both their health and their chances of staying sharp in old age. "We can treat the conditions that affect mental function as well," she said.

Eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical exercise, and participating in mentally stimulating and socially engaging activities all are valuable lifestyle strategies for warding off chronic illness, Vassilaki said.

The National Institute on Aging paid for the research.

Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

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