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Memory assessment questionnaire on tablet screen

Active commitment to lifestyle programme protects the cognitive functions of older persons

A new study examined how actively an older person should commit to a lifestyle programme for the prevention of cognitive decline in order for it to be beneficial.

According to the results of the study, older persons who commit to a lifestyle programme benefit the most from it.

Tasks measuring cognitive functions were best performed by older adults who participated in the activities at least half of the time. In addition, their lifestyles improved the most. In contrast, those who participated in the activities only a few times did not benefit from the programme.

“The results indicate that improving a person’s lifestyles requires long-term commitment for it to also affect cognitive functions. The permanence and long-term outcomes of the lifestyle changes are currently being examined in a follow-up study,” says Tiia Ngandu, Research Manager.

The results from the FINGER study on the prevention of cognitive decline have shown that a lifestyle programme will significantly strengthen several memory and cognitive functions of older adults. The programme includes dietary guidance, physical activity, cognitive training, and enhanced monitoring and management of cardiovascular risk factors.

Several lifestyles affect cognitive functions

The lifestyle programme for the prevention of cognitive impairment lasted for two years. The dietary guidance included three individual meetings and six group meetings to support adherence to a diet in accordance with nutritional recommendations. Exercise training was organised once or twice a week at the gym.

The training for memory functions included six group meetings and computer-based memory exercises twice a week. Risk factors for vascular disease were monitored at appointments with the study nurse and physician.

“We found that participation in all aspects of the lifestyle programme contributed to the benefits achieved with the programme. The results indicate that influencing several lifestyles simultaneously is the most effective method in preserving cognitive function,” says Jenni Lehtisalo, Postdoctoral Researcher.

The Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability, or FINGER, was the first study in the world to establish that by following a multidomain lifestyle programme, the older adults can improve their cognitive function and prevent memory decline. Between 2009 and 2014, a total of 1 260 people aged 60–77 years participated in the study.

Based on the results of the study, an operational model has been developed that allows physicians, nurses and other actors to support the preservation of the cognitive functions and functional capacity of older persons. The FINGER study has served as a model for the prevention of memory disorders around the world. More than 40 countries are studying and applying a lifestyle programme pursuant to the model.

The research is being carried out in collaboration with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), University of Eastern Finland, University of Oulu and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The research article has been published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

Research article:

Ngandu T, Lehtisalo J, Korkki S, Solomon A, Coley N, Antikainen R, Bäckman L, Hänninen T, Lindström J, Laatikainen T, Paajanen T, Havulinna S, Peltonen M, Neely AS, Strandberg T, Tuomilehto J, Soininen H, Kivipelto M. The effect of adherence on cognition in a multidomain lifestyle intervention (FINGER). Alzheimers Dement. 2021 Oct 20. doi: 10.1002/alz.12492. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34668644.

More information:

FINGER research project 

World-Wide Fingers Network: A global network of clinical trials for prevention and risk reduction of dementia

Tiia Ngandu, Research Manager, THL
tel. +358 29 524 7716,

Jenni Lehtisalo, Postdoctoral Researcher, THL, University of Eastern Finland
tel. +358 29 524 8573,