British Journal of Nutrition

Review article

Nutrition and cognitive impairment in the elderly

M. González-Grossa1 c1, Ascensión Marcosa2 and Klaus Pietrzika1

a1 Instituto de Nutrición y Bromatología (CSIC-UCM), Facultad de Farmacia, Ciudad Universitaria, E-28040 Madrid, Spain

a2 Institut für Ernährungswissenschaft, Abteilung Pathophysiologie der Ernährung, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität, D-53115 Bonn, Germany

Abstract

As the number of older people is growing rapidly worldwide and the fact that elderly people are also apparently living longer, dementia, the most common cause of cognitive impairment is getting to be a greater public health problem. Nutrition plays a role in the ageing process, but there is still a lack of knowledge about nutrition-related risk factors in cognitive impairment. Research in this area has been intensive during the last decade, and results indicate that subclinical deficiency in essential nutrients (antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and β-carotene, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, folate) and nutrition-related disorders, as hypercholesterolaemia, hypertriacylglycerolaemia, hypertension, and diabetes could be some of the nutrition-related risk factors, which can be present for a long time before cognitive impairment becomes evident. Large-scale clinical trials in high-risk populations are needed to determine whether lowering blood homocysteine levels reduces the risk of cognitive impairment and may delay the clinical onset of dementia and perhaps of Alzheimer's disease. A curative treatment of cognitive impairment, especially Alzheimer's disease, is currently impossible. Actual drug therapy, if started early enough, may slow down the progression of the disease. Longitudinal studies are required in order to establish the possible link of nutrient intake – nutritional status with cognitive impairment, and if it is possible, in fact, to inhibit or delay the onset of dementia.

(Received November 23 1999)

(Revised February 06 2001)

(Accepted March 07 2001)

Correspondence:

c1 *Corresponding author: Dr Marcela González-Gross , present address Instituto de Nutrición y Bromatología CSIC-UCM, Facultad de Farmacia, Ciudad Universitaria, E-28040 Madrid, Spain, fax +34 91 394 22 83, email mggross@canal21.com

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